White House says Iraq violence in "new phase," Bush steps up diplomacy ahead of NATO, Iraq meetings

Monday, November 27th 2006, 6:10 am
By: News On 6

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) _ President Bush intensified diplomatic efforts on Monday to quell rising violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, turning to allies as his national security adviser said the conflict in Iraq had entered ``a new phase'' requiring changes.

``Obviously everyone would agree things are not proceeding well enough or fast enough,'' National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters aboard Air Force One as Bush flew eastward.

The president was spending Monday night in this tiny Baltic nation ahead of a two-day NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, expected to deal with deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan, where NATO has 32,000 troops.

Both Estonia and Latvia are former Soviet republics that are strong allies in the war on terror.

Bush will head to Amman, Jordan, for talks Wednesday and Thursday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and King Abdullah of Jordan.

From Air Force One, the president spoke to the leaders of France and Egypt.

Addressing the upcoming meetings with al-Maliki, Hadley said, ``We're clearly in a new phase characterized by an increase in sectarian violence that requires us to adapt to that new phase.''

Bush and al-Maliki ``need to be talking about how to do that and what steps Iraq needs to take and how we can support'' Iraq's leaders, Hadley said.

The adviser rejected suggestions that Iraq had already spiraled into a civil war and said it was unlikely Bush would address with the Iraqi leader the issue of any U.S. troop withdrawals. ``We're not at the point where the president is going to be in a position to lay out a comprehensive plan,'' Hadley said.

Hadley also said he believed that al-Maliki _ rather than Bush _ seemed more likely to bring up the subject of dealing with Iran and Syria, saying the Iraqi leader had strong views on the subject.

Bush received a briefing Sunday night at the White House from Vice President Dick Cheney, who had gone to Saudi Arabia over the weekend as part of the administration's expanded efforts to draw Iraq's neighbors into the search for a solution.

In further signs of a worsening situation, a mortar attack ignited a huge fire Monday night at an oil facility in northern Iraq, shutting the flow of crude oil to a major refinery. And a U.S. Air Force jet crashed in Anbar province, a hotbed of the Sunni-Arab insurgency, officials said. Al-Jazeera reported that the pilot was killed.

Meanwhile, Britain said it expects to withdraw thousands of its 7,000 military personnel from Iraq by the end of next year, and Poland and Italy announced the impending withdrawal of their remaining troops as well.

In the U.S., the Iraq Study Group, a 10-member commission led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, was working on a set of strategies for Iraq.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan discussed the situation in Iraq Monday afternoon in a teleconference with members of the group, which was meeting in Washington.

The president is expected to urge NATO members to increase military spending at the summit in Riga. Violence has increased markedly in recent days, particularly in the southern part of Afghanistan, where the Taliban are resurgent.

Bush is trying to persuade many European allies to contribute more for the Afghanistan effort. He'll also promote his plan to invite several major non-NATO countries, including Japan, Australia and South Korea, into some joint missions with NATO.

Bush is the first sitting U.S. president to visit Estonia.

His brief stopover in this medieval capital was seen as a token of American gratitude for the Baltic ally's strong support in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unlike in most of Europe, there is hardly any public criticism here of Bush's administration or the Iraq war. A small protest by anarchists was planned in Tallinn on Tuesday but was not expected to cause any major disruption.

Bush will meet with Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and U.S.-educated President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Bush and Ilves planned a joint news conference.

The U.S. president also was expected to meet democracy activists and Estonian soldiers who have served on foreign missions.

Aides said Bush also spoke by phone from Air Force One to Chinese President Hu Jintao on relations between the two countries and their recent meeting on the sidelines of a summit in Vietnam of Asian-Pacific nations. Bush also phoned former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was hospitalized for tests after he fainted during a rally.