US President George Bush is reportedly “open to ideas” as he meets a panel studying the war on Iraq today.
The Iraq Study Group plans to announce its recommendations to Bush and Congress by the end of the year.
“The president looks forward to sharing his thoughts with the Iraq Study Group, as do other administration officials,” said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council, yesterday. “He is open to any ideas and suggestions on the way forward.”
The study group is led by the Secretary of State James Baker III, who served under republican adminisrations, and former democratic congressman Lee Hamilton.
Members of the group are meeting Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
The group was also having individual meetings with Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Intelligence director John Negroponte and CIA director Michael Hayden.
British prime minister Tony Blair also plans to speak to the commission via video link tomorrow.
Baker has indicated the recommendations will fall somewhere between the “cut and run” strategy that Republicans like to say Democrats advocate, and the “stay the course” policy until recently used by the president and widely ridiculed by Democrats.
Bush’s advisers adopted a new tone yesterday, days after a dissatisfied public handed the White House a divided government.
“Full speed ahead” in Iraq, as Cheney put it in the final days of the campaign, was replaced by repeated calls for a “fresh perspective” and an acknowledgment that “nobody can be happy” with the situation in Iraq.
“We clearly need a fresh approach,” said Josh Bolten, Bush’s chief of staff, making the rounds of morning talk shows.
Bolten, asked in an interview with CNN whether the administration was open to talking to Iran and Syria, said ”nothing is off the table. All the options will be considered” from the commission.
“There’s been lots of talking with Iran and Syria over the years … The important thing is what do the Iraqis want,” he said.
Democrats, meanwhile, showed they were not all in accord on how to proceed in Iraq. Although party leaders back a multifaceted approach to stabilising the country, politicians are not united on when to bring troops home without risking more chaos in Iraq.
Senator Carl Levin, the incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee, urged that US troops begin coming home in phases within four months to six months. He and Senator Joe Biden, the incoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, predicted many Republicans would support such a resolution now that the election is over.
“We have to tell Iraqis that the open-ended commitment is over,” Levin said.
Yet the Senate’s top democrat, Harry Reid, did not seem to go as far. He said he thought the withdrawal of US troops should began within a few months, but when asked if he would insist on a specific date, he said: “Absolutely not.”
The administration will not support a timetable for drawing down troops, Bolten said.