Bush Invites Dems to Meet About Iraq

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The Associated Press
Tuesday, April 10, 2007; 7:00 PM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush offered to talk with Democrats about the standoff over war funding, but he made it clear Tuesday he will not embrace any timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal. Democrats said there was no point in talking if Bush refused to negotiate.

"We can discuss the way forward on a bill that is a clean bill _ a bill that funds our troops without artificial timetables for withdrawal, and without handcuffing our generals on the ground," Bush said in a speech to an American Legion audience in nearby Fairfax, Va.

On the one hand, Bush extended an offer to meet with lawmakers Tuesday. On the other, the White House bluntly said it would not be a negotiating session.

The president said if lawmakers don't send him a bill he will sign _ one that does not include timetables or money for pet projects in their home districts _ it would be Congress, not the White House, that will have to answer to troops.

"The bottom line is this: Congress' failure to fund our troops will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines," Bush said at American Legion Post 177. "Others could see their loved ones headed back to war sooner than anticipated. This is unacceptable."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected the terms set by the White House.

"Congressional Democrats are willing to meet with the president at any time, but we believe that any discussion of an issue as critical as Iraq must be accomplished by conducting serious negotiations without any preconditions," they said in a joint statement.

"With his threat to veto such a plan for change in Iraq, President Bush is ignoring the clear message of the American people: We must protect our troops, hold the Iraqi government accountable, rebuild our military, provide for our veterans and bring our troops home. The president is demanding that we renew his blank check for a war without end."

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, said Bush must drop his conditions on the meeting before Reid would attend. Pelosi agreed.

"What the president invited us to do was come to his office so that we could accept without any discussion the bill that he wants," Pelosi said at a news conference in San Francisco. "That's not worthy of the concerns of the American people, and I join with Senator Reid in rejecting an invitation of that kind."

Bush said the Defense Department will soon send Congress a request to transfer $1.6 billion from other military accounts to cover funding for troops _ a move needed, he said, because lawmakers have delayed his emergency spending request. He warned that continued delays would undermine troop training, slow the repair of equipment and force soldiers to serve longer tours of duty.

Bush got an assist for his argument on Tuesday from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who said he saw no need to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. His comments in Japan came a day after tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of two Shiite holy cities, demanding that U.S. forces leave the country.

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© 2007 The Associated Press

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