Rice, Rumsfeld Brief President on Joint Visit to Iraq
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 1, 2006 After traveling to Baghdad last week to meet with Iraq's newly chosen leaders, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today briefed President Bush on their impressions.
Bush thanked the two Cabinet officers for making the trip, noting that he didn't think phone calls were enough to demonstrate to the new Iraqi leaders the extent of U.S. support for their new unity government.
"I had spoken to them on the phone, but I thought it was very important for both secretaries to go firsthand, to be there with the leadership to say we're supporting them," the president said. "It's very important for these two senior officials to sit down with these new folks and say, 'You have our support, and we want you to succeed.'"
Bush said both secretaries reported the new leaders are optimistic, energetic and eager to succeed. "And that's really important for the American people to know, that we've got partners in this effort who are dedicated to a unified Iraq and dedicated to putting a government together that is one that will represent all the Iraqi people," the president said.
The country's new prime minister, president and parliament speaker know they face a difficult road, Bush said. "It's a government that understands they've got serious challenges ahead of them," he said. "And the three leaders spoke to Secretary Rice and Secretary Rumsfeld about their need to deploy the growing strength of the Iraqi security forces in such a way as to defeat the terrorists and the insurgents. And we will continue to support them in that effort."
Bush said Rice and Rumsfeld also reported discussions about establishing control over militias and other unauthorized armed groups, enforcing the rule of law, rebuilding infrastructure and strengthening Iraq's economy and ensuring that all Iraqis benefit from the new democracy, and he pledged support to those efforts.
"A new Iraqi government represents a strategic opportunity for America -- and the whole world, for that matter," Bush said. "This nation of ours and our coalition partners are going to work with the new leadership to strengthen our mutual efforts to achieve success: a victory in this war on terror."
The president said Rice and Rumsfeld opened a new chapter in the U.S.-Iraqi partnership. "The Iraqi leaders saw that we are committed to helping them succeed," he said. "They need to know that we stand with them. And the Iraqi people need to know that we stand with them -- that we understand the strategic importance of a free Iraq in the Middle East, and that we understand the need to deny safe haven to the terrorists who have caused such turmoil and havoc inside of Iraq."
Bush noted that the Iraqi people voted to elect their new government, often at great personal risk. "Last December, millions of people defied the terrorists and killers, and said, 'We want to be free, we want a unity government,'" Bush said. "And now what has happened is (that) after compromise and politics, the Iraqis have come together to form that government. And our secretaries went over there to tell them that we look forward to working with them as partners in peace."