President Bush’s chief of staff said Sunday “nobody can be happy with the situation” now in Iraq and the White House would consider the idea of U.S. talks with Syria and Iran if a blue-ribbon commission recommended that.
President Bush and his national security team planned to meet Monday with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which is trying to develop a new course for the war.
“We’re looking forward to the recommendations,” said Josh Bolten, Bush’s top aide. With Democrats seizing majorities in the House and Senate in last week’s elections and urging a change in Iraq policy, Bolten said the White House is “looking forward to a dialogue with bipartisan leaders in Congress.”
“Everybody’s objective here is to succeed in Iraq. I think that’s true of Democrats as well as Republicans. But the president has said we need to get fresh eyes on the problem. We need a fresh perspective,” Bolten said.
Already, military commanders are re-evaluating strategy to determine what changes are needed “to get ourselves more focused on the correct objectives,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman said last week.
The administration, Bolten said, “has always been ready to make a course adjustment” in Iraq.
“Nobody can be happy with the situation in Iraq right now. Everybody’s been working hard, but what we’ve been doing has not worked well enough or fast enough,” Bolten said. “So it’s clearly time to put fresh eyes on the problem. The president has always been interested in tactical adjustments. But the ultimate goal remains the same, which is success in Iraq.”
Syria accused of aiding terrorism
Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group with ex-Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, has questioned the administration’s policy of not talking to the Iranians or Syrians, whom the United States has accused of helping terrorism, about cooperating on a way to end the violence in Iraq and stabilize the country.
Bolten, asked in an interview with CNN’s “Late Edition” whether the administration was open to talking to Iran and Syria, said “nothing is off the table. All the options will be considered” from the commission.
“There’s been lots of talking with Iran and Syria over the years ... The important thing is what do the Iraqis want,” he said.
“The problem hasn’t been a lack of communication. But we’ll look at whatever the Baker-Hamilton commission come up with because there are a lot of good smart people there and see what their recommendations are,” Bolten said.
Shiite ties in Iran and Iraq
Iran’s hard-line Shiite theocracy maintains close ties to Iraqi Shiites, who make up about 60 percent of Iraq’s population and dominate the government. Iraq’s Sunnis are highly suspicious of such ties.
The U.S. has accused Syria of facilitating the movement of foreign fighters into Iraq.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who plans to speak to the commission via video link on Tuesday, reportedly will urge the administration to open talks with Syria and Iran and push for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a way of defusing Mideast tensions.
Bolten was whether the administration was ready to make a new effort to get involved in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. “We’ll see. The timing has to be right and it has to be something that both the Israelis and the Palestinians want,” he said.