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Last Updated: Friday, 8 December 2006, 09:21 GMT
Bush 'must adopt all Iraq plan'
US President George W Bush with UK PM Tony Blair in the background
Mr Bush is facing a decision on whether to accept the ISG report
The main authors of the report that aims to change US strategy in Iraq have urged President George Bush to follow all of their recommendations.

Former Secretary of State James Baker said the 79 points they put forward were not a "fruit salad" to be picked over, but a comprehensive strategy.

Mr Bush has said that he would "seriously consider" the report.

However, he appears already to have ruled out some proposals, like talking unconditionally to Syria and Iran.

He also appeared to rule out the the phasing out of the US combat role in Iraq.

The Iraq Study Group's assessment of US policy in Iraq was scathing, saying the situation there is "deteriorating" and warning that "time is running out".

After meeting British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday, Mr Bush admitted the approach to Iraq and the Middle East needed to change.

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

He accepted there was a need for "concerted efforts to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East".

But he sounded reluctant to open talks with Syria and Iran.

"The truth of the matter is that these countries have now got the choice to make," Mr Bush said.

"If they want to sit down at the table with the United States, it's easy: just make some decisions that will lead to peace, not to conflict."

Senators sceptical

As well as talking to Tehran and Damascus, the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report urged Mr Bush to consider shifting US efforts towards the support and training of the Iraqi armed forces.

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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Under certain circumstances, US combat troops could be withdrawn from Iraq by early 2008, the report said.

But that suggestion was sharply criticised by senior Republican Senator John McCain, one of several sceptical members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"I believe this is a recipe that will lead to our defeat sooner or later in Iraq," he said.

"There's only one thing worse than an over-stressed army and marine corps, and that's a defeated army and marine corps."

Former Democratic President Bill Clinton, speaking on TV in the Netherlands, said a "regional solution" to the Iraq problem should involve Iran and Syria.

Iran, a likely destination for millions of Iraqi refugees in the event of civil collapse there, has a strong interest in stabilising the country, Mr Clinton said.

And UN Secretary General Kofi Annan repeated his belief that both states should be involved in helping solve the crisis in Iraq.

'Strong Congress needed'

At the White House, Mr Blair welcomed the 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", and said he would return to the region for talks in the near future.

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

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 by both leaders gave little sign of a plan to shift their ground - with both sticking to their overall goals for Iraq and the Middle East.

But testifying before a Congressional committee on Thursday, the two authors of the ISG report insisted that the report needed to be fully accepted by the White House to be of any use.

Congress should strongly endorse the ISG report in order to put pressure on the White House to implement its recommendations, ex-congressman Lee Hamilton told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr Baker said he saw a value in inviting Iran to regional talks, even if Tehran refused the invitation, an outcome he saw as likely.

"What do we lose by saying, 'we're getting all of Iraq's neighbours together, we want you to come, and if they say no, we show the world what they're all about?'"


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Tony Blair and George Bush on the situation in Iraq






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