Video: Progress report coming

NBC News and news services
updated 5/24/2007 8:32:22 PM ET 2007-05-25T00:32:22

President Bush said Thursday this summer will be a critical time for his Iraq troop buildup strategy and predicted heavy fighting in the weeks and months ahead.

Faced with demands to make progress in Iraq by September from Democrats and many Republicans, Bush said that the last troops in a 30,000-troop buildup should be in place by mid-June.

Asked how long he believed he could sustain the policy without significant progress on the ground, Bush noted that the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, is to report back on the effects of the new strategy at the end of the summer.

“I would like to see us in a different configuration at some point in Iraq. However it's going to require taking control of the capital,” he said at a news conference from the Rose Garden at the White House.

With dozens of U.S. troops killed in Iraq this month, Bush said he realized the loss of life was devastating for the families. He also said he was confident the U.S. military was doing everything it could to find two American soldiers missing since their patrol was ambushed on May 12.

‘Heavy fighting’ expected
He said the last five brigades — about 15,000 troops — of his escalation are scheduled to arrive in Baghdad next month.

“We are going to expect heavy fighting in the next weeks and months and we can expect American and Iraqi casualties,” Bush said. “We will stay on the offense,” he added, repeating a favorite refrain: “It’s better to fight them there than to fight them here.”

The president also said that the strategy he is now following includes many of the recommendations issued last December by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana — recommendations at first generally ignored by the administration.

Bush said he supports a $120 billion Iraq war spending bill on track to to pass Congress Thursday, ending weeks of wrangling with congressional Democrats on how long U.S. troops should stay.

The bill funds the war through September as Bush wanted and does not set a date for troop withdrawals. In exchange for dropping restrictions on the military, Bush agreed to some $17 billion in spending added by Democrats to fund domestic and military-related projects.

"By voting for this bill, members of both parties can show our troops and the Iraqis and the enemy that our country will support our service men and women in harm's way," Bush said

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Call for ‘further sanctions’ on Iran
The president also said he would work with allies to beef up sanctions on Iran after a new U.N. report said Tehran is accelerating its uranium enrichment program in defiance of international demands.

Video: Analysis "We need to strengthen our sanctions regime," Bush said in a Rose Garden news conference. Leaders of Iran "continue to be defiant as to the demands of the free world," he said.

The president said he had directed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to work with European partners to "develop further sanctions."

“And, of course, I will discuss this issue with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, as well as (Chinese) President Hu Jintao,” he said.

“The first thing that these leaders have got to understand is that an Iran with a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing for the world. It's in their interests that we work collaboratively to continue to isolate that regime,” he added.

Tensions with Tehran
Bush's comments on Iran came against a backdrop of rising tensions. The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency on Wednesday accused Iran of accelerating its uranium enrichment program in defiance of international demands.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed two rounds of sanctions on Iran since December.

The U.S. has moved two aircraft carriers and seven other ships into the Persian Gulf in a show of force. And Iran has been increasing its detention of American citizens.

"The world has spoken and has said no nuclear weapons programs. Yet they're constantly ignoring the demands," Bush said.

Diplomats meet on Monday
The rhetoric on Iran increased ahead of a meeting in Baghdad on Monday between U.S. and Iranian diplomats — one of the few such meetings since formal relations were frozen in 1980 — to deal with stabilizing Iraq.

Bush also hailed the recently negotiated compromise with the Democratic-run Congress that will pay for the war in Iraq through September without strings attached. The bill, being voted on in both the House and Senate on Thursday, "reflects a consensus that the Iraqi government needs to show real progress in return for America's continued support and sacrifice," Bush said.

He noted that the legislation contained various goals for Iraqi progress and said "meeting these benchmarks will be difficult; it's going to be hard for this young government."

Immigration reform
Meanwhile, Bush plugged the immigration proposal that his administration negotiated with Senate leaders of both parties. The legislation faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, let alone the House.

“It’s a difficult piece of legislation and those who are looking to find fault with this bill will always be able to find something. But if you’re serious about securing our borders, and bringing millions of illegal immigrants in this country out of the shadows, this bipartisan bill is the best opportunity to move forward,” he said.

Still, Republicans and Democrats placed strict new conditions on the immigration measure on Wednesday, voting overwhelmingly to slash the number of foreign workers who could come to the U.S. on temporary visas, capping the guest-worker program at 200,000 a year.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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