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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 December 2006, 21:44 GMT
Bush: No early Iran-Syria talks
Tony Blair and George W Bush
Bush and Blair presented a united front
US President George W Bush has ruled out early talks with Iran and Syria on tackling Iraq's unrest, after meeting Tony Blair at the White House.

Their talks came a day after a damning US report called for such a move as part of a change in strategy on Iraq.

The two leaders agreed that a new way forward was needed on Iraq.

But they said Iran and Syria would have to be clear they backed a non-sectarian democratically elected government in Iraq and ended support for terrorism.

Mr Blair welcomed the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report, and mirrored its call for action on finding an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

He conceded conditions in Iraq were "tough and challenging".

Iraq's neighbours and key states in and outside the region should form a support group to reinforce security and national reconciliation within Iraq

But he said the people of the Middle East faced a choice - either secular or religious dictatorship, or "they can enjoy the same possibilities of democracy that we hold dear".

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent, Jonathan Marcus, says the comments gave little sign the leaders planned to shift their ground after the ISG review - with both sticking to their overall goals for Iraq and the Middle East.

In other developments:

  • Fourteen insurgents and a US soldier were killed in heavy clashes with insurgents in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on Wednesday, the US military said
  • A US marine accused of killing an Iraqi civilian in Handaniya is to be tried in April.

Middle East trip

The ISG's assessment of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq is scathing, saying the situation there is "deteriorating" and warning that "time is running out".

KEY SUGGESTIONS
Primary mission of US forces should evolve to one of supporting Iraqi army
By first quarter of 2008... all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq
US must not make open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq
Source: ISG report
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"It's bad in Iraq," Mr Bush conceded to reporters.

But he said the violence was not a result of "faulty planning".

And he stressed an Iraq that could govern and sustain itself was a noble cause - which extremists inside and outside the country were trying to prevent.

The ISG urged talks with Iran and Syria on tackling the instability.

But Mr Bush said US policy towards Tehran would change only if Iran verifiably suspended its uranium enrichment programme.

Syria needed to be told to stop destabilising the Lebanese government and allowing arms and money flowing to insurgents in Iraq.

"They know what is expected of them," he said.

Mr Bush said the US and Britain would continue to work together towards bringing peace and freedom to Iraq.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The damage has already been done and now ordinary Iraqis have to live with the mess
Daniel, London

He announced the UK leader would be travelling to the Middle East shortly with the aim of finding an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has rejected the ISG's assessment that progress in Iraq is linked to resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians - although he said he was interested in re-starting peace talks.

But he ruled out opening peace talks with Syria in the near future, as recommended in the report.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Tony Blair and George Bush on the situation in Iraq






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