Report: Bush drafting timetable for Iraq
The Bush administration is drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government to address sectarian divisions and assume a larger role in securing the country, The New York Times reported Sunday.
Citing senior American officials, the Times reported that while details of the blueprint are still being drawn up, a plan is to be presented to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki before the end of the year. The officials reportedly told the Times that for the first time, Iraq was likely to be asked to agree to a schedule of specific milestones, such as disarming sectarian militias, and to a broad set of other political, economic and military benchmarks intended to stabilize the country.
On Saturday, President Bush participated in a 90-minute video conference with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad; Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the military commander in Iraq; Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley.
In a report that first appeared on its Web site on Saturday afternoon, the New York Times wrote that the plan would not threaten al-Maliki with a withdrawal of American troops, but that several officials said the Bush administration would consider changes in military strategy and other penalties if Iraq balked at adopting it or failed to meet critical benchmarks within it.
But in a statement issued Saturday night, a White House spokeswoman, Nicole Guillemard, said the Times’ account was “not accurate,” but did not specify what was inaccurate.
Other White House officials also said the article was not accurate. Benchmarks have been part of the U.S. policy in Iraq for months, Dan Bartlett, a top aide to President Bush, told The Associated Press.
“Implicit in that is that if they are not achieving the benchmarks, we are going to have to make changes accordingly,” Bartlett said, adding that troop withdrawals or other dramatic changes in U.S. policy are not being contemplated.
Additionally, Frederick L. Jones II, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told The Washington Post that the story was not accurate.
“I wouldn’t read into this somehow that there is a full-scale push for a major re-evaluation,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told The Associated Press on Saturday. Rice, traveling from Asia to Moscow, stressed to reporters that Bush talks often with his generals in Iraq, and did so recently at Camp David.
Until now, the Times wrote, the Bush administration has avoided using threats of deadlines for progress, saying conditions on the ground would determine how quickly Iraq took on greater responsibility for governing the country and how soon American troops could withdraw.
“We’re trying to come up with ways to get the Iraqis to step up to the plate, to push them along, because the time is coming. We can’t be there forever,” the Times quoted a senior administration official as saying.