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Bush may announce 'new way forward' in Iraq

Story Highlights

• NEW: Spokesman says Bush may announce plan by the end of the year
• NEW: Iraq Study Group co-chairmen say group's report possibly a "tough sell"
• NEW: Lee Hamilton and James Baker happy about Bush's reaction to report
• Report suggests communicating with Iran and Syria, which Bush has opposed
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush may be able to "announce a new way forward" in Iraq by the end of the year, his chief spokesman told CNN Wednesday night.

Tony Snow told CNN's "Larry King Live" that Bush would need to compare Wednesday's report by the Iraq Study Group with pending studies by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Security Council before any policy changes are announced.

"We're hoping to have all that pulled together so that maybe by the end of the year, the president can announce a new way forward," Snow told King.

In presenting the group's report Wednesday, co-chairman James Baker said that because "events in Iraq could overtake what we recommend," members of the group "believe that decisions should be made by our national leaders with some urgency."

After receiving the report from panel members, Bush told them that "we will take every proposal seriously, and we will act in a timely fashion." (Watch how Bush's approach may change Video)

But he did not indicate when he might announce any changes in his Iraq policy.

The co-chairmen of the bipartisan group said Wednesday that they believe their recommendations could also be a "tough sell" given the variety of views circulating about the war.

"We think we have put forward recommendations that are achievable in the political environment in Washington and the political environment in Iraq," said Lee Hamilton, a Democrat and former Indiana congressman.

He co-chaired the panel with former Secretary of State Baker.

"Of course it's a tough sell," Hamilton said. "You've got a lot of people, good people, in this country thinking about it from all perspectives."

Bush and al-Maliki receive report well

Baker said he and Hamilton had been "pleasantly surprised" by President Bush's reaction when they presented the report to him at the White House Wednesday morning. (Watch Bush's reaction to Iraq report Video)

He said Bush told them that the report "might very well present us with a common way of moving forward."

Hamilton said their conversation about the report with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki also "went very well."

"He obviously has concerns about any policy recommendation that deeply affects his country. But I believe overall, they will see it positively," Hamilton told King.

"They're very sensitive about their own sovereignty, so when we recommend a new regional framework for diplomacy, they want to be very careful that Iraq is, in fact, in control of that, or at least very prominent.

"And they certainly resist any idea that the United States or anybody else is imposing something on them," Hamilton said.

The 10 members of the Iraq Study Group -- evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats -- spent nearly nine months gathering information and talking to many experts about possible strategies for Iraq. (Watch why Democrats feel vindicated by report Video)

The report was released on the same day former CIA Director Robert Gates was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary. (Full story)

In their CNN interview Wednesday, Baker and Hamilton revealed that one of the people they approached for comment was President Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush.

"He was very discreet, as you'd expect him to be. He felt that because the president is his son that he ought not to be engaging with us," Hamilton said.

"We appreciated and respected that. He's clearly a person of great knowledge of this region and area. We would like to have heard from him, but, on the other hand, we certainly respect his view."

Talk with Iran and Syria

In the end, all 10 members of the group endorsed the report's 79 recommendations -- a consensus that Baker said "wasn't easy" to achieve.

"There were some significant differences among this group. These are all very strong-willed and powerful people, and they have strongly held views," Baker said. "But in the final analysis, I think everybody put ... those personal preferences aside in the national interest."

One of the most controversial recommendations in the report was that diplomatic efforts to improve stability in Iraq should include discussions with all of its neighbors, including Iran and Syria -- two countries with which the Bush administration has taken a hard and frosty line.

But Baker said what the study group was suggesting was similar to what was done with regard to Afghanistan, where discussions with Iran took place as part of multilateral talks with its neighbors, not bilaterally between Tehran and Washington.

"All we're suggesting ... is that we do the same thing with them in Iraq, that we approach them to attend a multilateral meeting of Iraq's neighbors and some other countries and see if they have any interest in helping us stabilize the situation," Baker said.

"Iran has no interest whatsoever in a chaotic Iraq, and the representatives of the Iranian government that we have talked to during the development of this report have told us that."

Pullout would be 'disaster'

One thing the study group did not recommend was to do as some Democrats in Congress have suggested and immediately pull U.S. forces from Iraq. (Read Democrats' response to report)

Baker said that "would be a recipe for complete and thoroughgoing disaster."

"Precipitous withdrawal would undoubtedly not only generate a broad-based civil war in Iraq, it would probably lead to a regional war, as each of Iraq's neighbors came in to protect their own interests," he said.

Baker also said if U.S. forces left Iraq now, "al Qaeda would have a base like they did when the Taliban controlled Afghanistan."

Iraq Study Group chairmen James Baker, left, and Lee Hamilton told Larry King Wednesday the group's report may be a "tough sell" to President Bush.




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