Bush, Blair stand firm on Iraq

May 26, 2006 at 10:26 AM
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WASHINGTON, May 26 (UPI) -- President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have poured cold water on speculation of imminent Iraq troops withdrawals.

The two, in somber tones, reiterated in a news conference Thursday night that drawdowns of the 130,000 U.S. soldiers, plus British and other coalition forces in Iraq, was dependent on the ability of Iraqi forces to take over security and on the advice of military commanders on the ground.

"I've set the objective, it's clear for everybody -- a country that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself. And we're making progress on all fronts," Bush said.

"But as to how many troops we have there will depend upon the generals and their commanders saying, 'this is what we need to do the job, Mr. President,' and that's the way it's going to be so long as I'm standing here as the commander-in-chief, which is two-and-a-half more years."

Bush and Blair expressed confidence in the new government headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but also emphasized the need to remain committed to the challenge of defeating terrorism and spreading democracy.

"... Whatever people's views about the wisdom of that decision (to invade Iraq), now that there is a democratic government in Iraq, elected by its people, and now they are confronted with those whose mission it is to destroy the hope of democracy, then our sense of mission should be equal to that and we should be determined to help them defeat this terrorism and violence, Blair said."

Bush said the election of Maliki and establishment of a constitutional government in Iraq marked a fundamental change in the conflict. "The terrorists are now fighting a free and constitutional government. They're at war with the people of Iraq, and the Iraqi people are determined to defeat this enemy, and so are Iraq's new leaders, and so are the United States and Great Britain."

Bush and Blair held talks at the White House through Thursday afternoon and into the evening. Blair earlier in the week had visited Iraq and held discussions with the new prime minister, who has pledged an aggressive stance against terrorism.

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