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Bush Gets Preview of Iraq Group's Message

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

We're going to begin the hour with the work of the Iraq Study Group. Members of the bipartisan commission that's reassessing American policy were at the White House today meeting with President Bush, and while they only spent part of the day together, their work got almost all of the Capitol's attention. President Bush also spoke at a groundbreaking ceremony for a memorial on the National Mall to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and he met with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

NPR's David Greene reports from the White House.

DAVID GREENE: When he appeared on the National Mall today to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., President Bush noted that it was President Bill Clinton who signed legislation creating a memorial for the slain civil rights leader. The former president was here for the event, and Mr. Bush's nod to him drew wild applause.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It sounds like to me they haven't forgotten you yet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

President BUSH: He's become, as you know, my fourth brother.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: The joke was that Mr. Clinton has grown so close to the president's father that they're almost appearing like family. You could argue that in a sense, the president has been embracing his father more recently as well.

Mr. Bush spent an hour and a half today talking to the Iraq Study Group chaired by James Baker, who was secretary of state under the president's father. Another member is Lawrence Eagleburger, who succeeded Baker in that job in the same administration. The current president said afterwards he enjoyed his closed-door session.

President BUSH: I was impressed by the questions they asked. They want us to succeed in Iraq, just like I want to succeed.

GREENE: Since Democrats won the midterm election, there's been increasing focus on the 10-member panel, which is independent and was appointed by Congress. Democrats have long called for Mr. Bush to shift his Iraq strategy, and ideas offered by the Iraq Study Group could give him an opening to change course.

Still, when it comes to Iraq's future, the president today tried to shift some of the onus to his critics.

President BUSH: The opposition party won the Senate and the House, and what's interesting is that they're beginning to understand that with victory comes responsibilities.

GREENE: One of the leading Democratic voices on Iraq is Carl Levin of Michigan, who will likely chair the Senate Armed Services Committee next year. Today, Levin said it's time to exert more pressure on Iraq's government.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): The way to do that, probably the only way to do that, is to let the Iraqis know that within four to six months of the president notifying them that we're going to begin a phased redeployment of our troops out of Iraq.

GREENE: White House officials have said the president is open to ideas but won't accept a timetable for removing U.S. troops. The Iraq Study Group has raised hopes of a strategy that satisfies the president and the Democrats, but White House aides denied any suggestion that Mr. Bush is brining in his father's old hands to rescue the war effort.

David Greene, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.