By JAMES ROSEN
September 13, 2005
Bush also criticized Syria for allowing anti-American fighters to cross its border with Iraq to join the insurgency there, and he said it would be "incredibly destabilizing" for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
"For President Talabani and his fellow citizens, the day Saddam (Hussein) was removed from power was a day of deliverance, and America will always be proud that we led the armies of liberation," Bush told reporters at the White House, the Iraqi leader by his side.
After meeting with Bush, Talabani backed away from an earlier claim that as many as 50,000 of the 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq could begin leaving his country by the end of the year because Iraqi forces are prepared to replace them.
"We will set no timetable for withdrawal, Mr. President," Talabani said. "A timetable will help the terrorists, will encourage them, that they could defeat a superpower of the world and the Iraqi people."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials have said that, if anything, there might be at least short-term increases in U.S. troop levels because of expected spikes in insurgent attacks before Iraqis vote on a constitution next month and on a permanent government in December.
Talabani had described the possible significant U.S. withdrawals Monday in an interview with the Washington Post. By Tuesday, after his White House session with Bush, he had changed his formulation.
"We hope that by the end of 2006 our security forces are up to the level of taking responsibility from many American troops with complete agreement with America," Talabani said.
Talabani, a former lawyer and journalist, helped lead his fellow Kurds' resistance to Saddam in northern Iraq before the March 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled the dictator. U.S. soldiers captured Saddam in December 2003, and he is scheduled to go on trial next month before an Iraqi tribunal.
The Iraqi parliament chose Talabani as president in April of this year, three months after it was created in the first democratic elections.
Turning to face Bush as the two men stood at podium in the White House's East Room, Talabani said: "Mr. President, you are a visionary, great statesman. We salute you. We are grateful to you. We'll never forget what you have done for our people."
Despite his re-election in November, Bush's defiant policy in Iraq has caused political damage at home, where a clear majority of Americans now believe the war was a mistake, according to recent polls.
Bush ceded no ground, though, as he, too, turned and spoke directly to his visitor.
"Today, Mr. President, I pledge that we will not waver," Bush said. "And I appreciate your same pledge. Iraq will take its place among the world's democracies. The enemies of freedom will be defeated."
Looking ahead to the U.N. General Assembly meeting later this week, Bush said he would talk with allied leaders and other heads of state about Syria's unwillingness to control its long southeastern border with Iraq.
Bush praised Britain, France and Germany for their negotiating efforts to reign in Iran's nuclear ambitions, and the president said he would also discuss that threat in New York.
Noting that Iran is "awash in hydrocarbons (oil)," Bush expressed skepticism over Iran's need to develop nuclear power, but he acknowledged that it has a right to do so under international arms treaties. Bush suggested that Iran import enriched uranium under strict controls, a proposal Tehran has rejected.
"It is very important for the world to understand that Iran with a nuclear weapon will be incredibly destabilizing," Bush said. "Therefore, we must work together to prevent them from having the wherewithal to develop a nuclear weapon."
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