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Bush: Iraqis should assume more responsibility

Bremer taking back plans for Governing Council to consider

From Dana Bash and John King
CNN Washington Bureau

U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer will give the Iraqi Governing Council new proposals on speeding up the country's postwar political structure.
U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer will give the Iraqi Governing Council new proposals on speeding up the country's postwar political structure.

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Iraqi Governing Council
Paul Bremer
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Thursday that he wants a plan for Iraq that will "encourage Iraqis to assume more responsibility" in running their nation.

In brief remarks to reporters, Bush said his meeting with L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, was fruitful. Bremer made a hastily arranged trip to Washington this week to discuss the deteriorating security situation and the slow-moving political transition in Iraq.

"Ambassador Bremer sat right here yesterday and talked to me about the Iraqis' desire to be more involved in the governance of their country. And that's a positive development," the president said.

Bush directed Bremer to return to Iraq with proposals on how to accelerate the political transition. The proposals include the possibility of adopting an interim constitution and a new interim Iraqi leadership.

"Ambassador Bremer, with my instructions, is going back to talk to the Governing Council to develop a strategy. And he'll report back after he's consulted with the very people that we want to assume more responsibility," Bush said.

Until Wednesday, the White House position was that the U.S.-led coalition would not yield control of Iraq until free elections were held under a new Iraqi constitution.

In mid-September, for example, amid calls at the United Nations for the United States to yield power in Iraq more quickly, Bush said: "The Iraqis need to develop a constitution and then have free elections ... and then we deal with the sovereignty issue."

But senior U.S. officials said the options Bremer is taking to Iraq were designed to transfer more power to Iraqis, and that among them is for the U.S.-appointed Governing Council to create an interim constitution and install interim political leadership.

That leadership could be along the lines of the provisional leader put in place in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. One official close to the process, however, cautioned about overstating this analogy because of concerns the Iraqi people might not view such a step as legitimate.

If an interim executive is to be named, a senior official said, it would have to be someone chosen by the council -- with the United States keeping an eye on the process.

"We cannot and will not pick such a person," the senior official said.

White House officials and Bremer were reluctant to discuss any details of the conversations in public. Bremer said it is critical that he discuss the ideas first with the Governing Council, and the White House concern is that it not be seen as imposing a plan -- and a new government structure -- on Iraq.

Bremer said he was returning to Baghdad with several options to discuss with the council and a message that Bush is "steadfast in his determination to give the Iraqis authority over their country."

Privately, several officials also said Bremer was carrying a stern message from the president that it is time, as one put it, to "light a fire" under the council, whose work, in the view of the White House, has been stalled by personal, ethnic and religious rivalries.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell said speeding up the process is a goal.

"We're looking at all sorts of ideas, and we do want to accelerate the pace of reform," Powell told reporters.

While there is a sense of urgency about getting an option agreed upon, a senior administration official said Bremer was not returning to Baghdad with a specific timetable.

Administration officials said they believe the council still has time to meet a December 15 deadline to present the U.N. Security Council with a timetable for writing a permanent constitution and proceeding with additional political reforms.

Asked about Iraqis becoming disenchanted with U.S. troops, Bush said the goal is to foster relations with Iraqis "who understand that freedom is a precious commodity."

"I believe by far the vast majority of Iraqis understand the stakes and do want their children to grow up in a peaceful environment and do want their children going to a school and do want to be able to live a free life that is prosperous."

Bush said he doesn't expect all people to agree with the United States and its positions but does expect support for its effort to promote "peace and freedom."

"Freedom is not America's gift to the world. We believe freedom is the Almighty's gift to everybody in the world," Bush said.

Bremer had been scheduled to discuss the new proposals from Baghdad in a videoconference with Bush and other senior administration officials. But the decision was made to have him return to Washington to conduct the talks face to face.

Some administration officials said it was Bremer who thought it would be best to come to Washington, but other sources, including a White House official and a coalition source, said the decision was made in Washington.

Some officials in Washington have described Bremer as too cautious and the political transition as too slow, but even several who share this view disputed the notion that his job was in jeopardy.

"The president understands the enormity of the challenge and is very grateful," said one senior administration official.

The urgent meetings involving Bremer came as the administration also mulls a new CIA report warning that Iraqis are losing confidence in the U.S.-led coalition and are beginning to sympathize more with insurgents.

Several senior officials were careful to cast the new report as "a snapshot, not a thesis," as one said -- but these officials also conceded it offered a bleak assessment of the security situation and the impact the escalating attacks could have on support for the planned political transition. (Full story)

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