AP: President Bush said Sunday that Iran and Syria need to follow through on pledges to help Iraq, but left the door open to additional contacts between Washington and its chief Mideast foes. Associated Press
By TOM RAUM
Associated Press Writer
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) – President Bush said Sunday that Iran and Syria need to follow through on pledges to help Iraq, but left the door open to additional contacts between Washington and its chief Mideast foes.
“If they really want to help stabilize Iraq, there are things for them to do, such as cutting off weapons flows and or the flow of suicide bombers into Iraq,” Bush said during an appearance here with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
The president’s cautious assessment came on a six-hour stop designed as a show of confidence in Uribe and the battle against narcoterrorists in this strong but drug and violence-plagued U.S. ally. It was his first public comment on Saturday’s international conference held in Baghdad with Iraq, its neighbors and other key countries, such as the United States.
The one-day, closed-door meeting featured rare direct communication between Iran and the United States. Envoys from the two countries did not meet outside the larger meeting, and each blamed the other for Iraq’s security crisis.
Reports of testy exchanges aside, Bush praised the session as constructive. He said he hoped momentum from this conference will carry over to the next, which is expected to be held next month in Turkey.
As a sign of the U.S. commitment, he said, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be the nation’s representative next time.
“People are now committed publicly to helping Iraq, which I thought was very positive. The other benefit from the conference was that the government gained some confidence,” he said. “In terms of the expectations of the next meetings, we’ll see.”
Iran said it was ready to support any plan that would help end the bloodshed in its neighbor.
Responded Bush: “Those are nice statements, and now they can act on them.”
Bush also sought to assure Americans that 4,700 additional U.S. troops being sent into Iraq are slated for support roles only. He said they are needed to help the extra 21,500 combat troops he ordered in January do their jobs.
The president did not directly respond to a question from a reporter asking whether Americans should expect more troop increases.
Bush asked Congress on Friday for $3.2 billion to pay for the new Iraq troops, as well as for 3,500 new U.S. troops to expand training of local police and army units in Afghanistan.
That money is to come out of his request for nearly $100 billion to finance this year’s war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
House Democratic leaders say they will try to attach language to that war funding bill that would require Bush to remove U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of August 2008. That deadline could be expedited, possibly to the end of 2007, if the Iraqi government fails to meet commitments for stepping up security operations, distributing oil revenue and allowing amendments to the country’s constitution.
The Democratic plan would also bar the military from deploying troops who do not meet existing standards for equipping, training and resting U.S. troops, though Bush would be allowed to waive those standards.
“My hope, of course, is that Congress provides the funding necessary for the combat troops to be able to do their job – without any strings attached,” said Bush, who has threatened to veto the legislation if it makes it to his desk with the restrictions being pushed by Democrats.
No votes have been taken on the latest Democratic proposals.
Bush’s brief Colombian visit, the third stop on a five-nation Latin American tour, took him past rioting protesters and thousands of gun-toting police to a red-carpet welcome.
“Your country has come through very difficult times and now there’s a brighter day ahead,” Bush said in a toast after he Uribe met and had lunch at the presidential palace. “We have been friends and we will remain friends.”
Bush has indicated he will ask Congress to maintain current aid levels to Colombia at roughly $700 million annually.
Bush’s renewal of support came at a key moment.
Uribe is involved in a political scandal involving allies who allegedly colluded with right-wing militias in a reign of terror that nearly subverted Colombian democracy.
And Democrats who now control the U.S. Congress are asking tough questions about whether U.S. aid to Colombia is effective. Colombia receives more U.S. money than any country outside the Middle East and Afghanistan – to the tune of nearly $4 billion in mostly military aid since Uribe took office in 2002.
Colombia remains the source of more than 90 percent of the world’s cocaine despite record aerial fumigation of coca crops. And the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has neither been defeated nor had any members of its leadership captured.
Uribe is aware of the stakes. A rambling opening statement at his joint appearance with Bush seemed designed to reassure foreign audiences.
“I would like you to know, Mr. President, that our commitment is the full defeat of terrorists and the total recovery of justice and of democratic institutions,” Uribe said.
Bush said Uribe is working on the release of three Americans held by rebels for more than four years in Colombia.
“I am concerned about their safety. I really am worried about their families. These are three innocent folks who have been held hostage for too long,” Bush said. “Their kidnappers ought to show some heart.”
About a mile away from the palace, some 2,000 protesters chanted “Down with Bush” and burned American flags.
About 150 of them broke away, attacking riot police with rocks and metal barriers and ripping down lampposts. Some 200 helmeted police in full body armor responded with water cannons and tear gas to reclaim the street.
Extraordinary security had some 20,000 police and heavily armed troops mobilized to prevent any rebel attack.
Sharpshooters were positioned on rooftops, the city center was shut down to traffic and Bogotanos had to do without their beloved “ciclovia,” in which major avenues are given over on Sundays to biking, skating and jogging.
Bush and Uribe also discussed a U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement now stalled in Congress.
After meeting with Uribe, Bush talked with Colombians who are benefiting from various U.S programs.
Bush flew in to Colombia from Uruguay, and was heading to Guatemala immediately after his meetings. He also is visiting Brazil and Mexico.