Officials Expect No Big Changes, No Matter What Panel Advises

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 2, 2006

With the Iraq Study Group report due on Wednesday, the Bush administration has notified allies that it will not budge on certain aspects of Iraq policy, whatever recommendations are put forth by the independent panel of 10 prominent Republicans and Democrats.

At a private briefing for diplomats this past Wednesday, State Department and National Security Council officials said they do not expect any major policy shifts to emerge from either a White House review or the bipartisan panel, led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), according to diplomats familiar with the meeting. The diplomats spoke on the condition of anonymity because the briefing was private.

The officials also said any recommendations for policy shifts would have to fit in with long-term U.S. strategic objectives for Iraq, including ensuring that the nation can govern and defend itself and that it is stable, not a threat to neighbors, and an ally in the fight against terrorism.

In a further indication that the White House may be digging in its heels, the U.S. officials told the diplomats that President Bush looks forward to seeing the Iraq Study Group report, but they stressed that he will have the last word on what happens next and will not succumb to outside pressure, the sources said.

On the study group's reported recommendation of a withdrawal of most combat troops by early 2008, the U.S. officials said that any withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground -- and that they would resist the imposition of an arbitrary date.

Anticipating a recommendation that Washington should adopt a regional approach to the Iraq crisis, however, the officials told the diplomats that the administration might be interested in pressing for action on the Arab-Israeli dispute as a way of defusing Arab anger and showing peaceful U.S. intent in the region.

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