Bush, Iraqi President Meet at White House
Wednesday, June 25, 2008; 3:21 PM
President Bush discussed the ongoing dispute over a long-term security arrangement for U.S. forces in Iraq with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani at a hastily planned meeting at the White House this morning.
Appearing with Talabani in the Oval Office, Bush said the Iraqi president was on the "front lines" of the struggle in Iraq and said he "complimented the president" on the "progress" made there.
"The attitude of the people has improved immeasurably," Bush said.
Talabani said a "big part of Iraq is stable" and "our economy is growing."
Talabani is visiting the United States on an extended stay for unspecified medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. The 74-year-old Iraqi president has a history of health problems and was previously treated at Mayo following a collapse last year.
Neither Bush nor Talabani gave any indication of progress on a long-term security agreement that has prompted widespread criticism from Iraqi officials. The two countries have been negotiating a new pact to provide a legal basis for U.S. troops to stay in Iraq after a United Nations mandate expires Dec. 31.
Asked after the meeting how close the United States and Iraq are to reaching an agreement, White House press secretary Dana Perino said: "Well, they continue to work on it, and I couldn't put odds on it either way."
She added: "We think that it's critically important that we have some sort of . . . legal mechanism to make sure that our forces can operate legally there."
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned earlier this month that the talks were deadlocked amid widespread Iraqi opposition to proposals seen as giving U.S. forces too much power. But the White House said last week after a video conference between Bush and Maliki that the talks were going well.