President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will meet next week in Jordan to discuss the deteriorating security situation in Iraq.
Their meeting Nov. 29-30 comes as various groups contemplate the direction of the U.S.-led war. A Pentagon committee and the congressionally chartered Iraq Study Group have been preparing reports for Bush, and Iran has asked the presidents of Iraq and Syria to meet in Tehran.
In a joint statement Tuesday night, Bush and al-Maliki said they would meet in Amman, Jordan, to discuss building security and stability in Iraq. Bush will fly directly to Amman from the NATO summit in Riga, Latvia.
White House press secretary Tony Snow distributed the statement to reporters returning home with Bush from an eight-day Asia trip.
“We will focus our discussions on current developments in Iraq, progress made to date in the deliberations of a high-level joint committee on transferring security responsibilities and the role of the region in supporting Iraq,” the statement said.
“We reiterate our commitment to building the foundations of a peaceful, democratic and secure Iraq and to strengthening the partnership between our two nations,” the statement said.
Bush and al-Maliki last met July 25 in Washington.
Hadley: No headline statement expected
National security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters that when the two leaders meet in Jordan, “We’re not looking for a big, bold announcement.”
The meeting will allow a joint commission established to examine how to speed up the transition from coalition to Iraqi security forces to report to Bush and al-Maliki, Hadley said.
“It will also be an opportunity for the president and the prime minister to review the situation in Iraq more generally and talk about the way forward in order to accomplish ... move toward our objectives in an expeditious way,” he said.
The idea for a meeting came up a week or more ago, and plans accelerated in the last few days, Hadley said.
Britain may hand over Basra next spring
In a separate development, Britain could hand over control of the Iraqi province of Basra to the Iraq government in spring next year, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said on Wednesday.
“The progress of our current operation in Basra gives us confidence that we may be able to achieve transition in that province ... at some point next spring,” Beckett told parliament.
Britain has 7,200 troops in southern Iraq, mostly stationed in and around Basra.
What role for Iran, Syria?
On Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked the presidents of Iraq and Syria to attend a weekend summit in Tehran, a move seen as another effort by Iran to play a strong role in the Middle East.
Asked about what role Iran and Syria should be playing, Hadley said: “We think it is important that Iraq be speaking directly to these countries and making it clear to them that they need to play a positive role in seeking security, stability and democracy in Iraq. ... We are supportive of Iraqi government officials as they deliver that message.”
Hadley said Jordan was chosen as the site of the meeting between Bush and al-Maliki because of its support for the unity government in Iraq and the fact that Bush would be in the region. In their statement, the two leaders said they looked forward to meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
Bush is to arrive in Jordan in the late afternoon or early evening, conduct some business that evening and the next morning and then return to Washington, Hadley said.