President Bush and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said today they will not relent in the fight against insurgents in Iraq and that they agreed there should be no timetable for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.
Talabani's remarks at a White House news conference appeared to contradict comments he made in an interview with the Washington Post Monday that the United States could withdraw as many as 50,000 troops from Iraq by the end of the year.
In the interview, Talabani said he planned to discuss reductions in U.S. forces during a private meeting with Bush today, and he said he believed the United States could begin pulling out some troops immediately.
"We will set no timetable for withdrawal," Talabani said at the news conference, with Bush standing at a podium beside him. He said a timetable for withdrawal of American troops from his country would only "help the terrorists" and give them a "signal they can defeat us."
Talabani did say that he hoped that by the end of 2006, Iraqi troops would be able to take control of Iraq, but he insisted that would happen only with the "complete agreement of America." Talabani's comments came immediately following the private White House meeting.
Polls have shown an increasing dissatisfaction with the war among the American public.
At the news conference, Bush said the United States will not back down in its support of Iraq's new democracy despite continuing "acts of staggering brutality" in the country.
"I pledge we will not waiver, and I appreciate your same pledge," he told Talabani.
"American troops will stay on the offensive alongside Iraqi forces," Bush said. "Iraq will take its place among the world's democracies."
The Iraqi president's comments in the interview Monday differed dramatically from those offered by Bush and by U.S. military commanders in Iraq, who have carefully avoided setting a timetable for reducing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
The number of U.S. troops in Iraq currently stands at about 140,000 and the Pentagon has said it plans to maintain or even slightly increase that number in anticipation of an Oct. 15 referendum on Iraq's new constitution.
After the White House and Pentagon were contacted for comment on the interview, however, a senior adviser to Talabani called the Washington Post to say Talabani did not intend to suggest a specific timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Washington Post Staff Writer Jim VandeHei contributed to this report