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White House Balks at 'Timetable' for Iraq Handover

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick. Madeleine Brand is on assignment.

Our lead today, Iraq. With the elections coming here and the rising rate of American deaths in Iraq, with President Bush and his advisors reassessing U.S. policy, the top American civilian and military officials in Iraq spoke to reporters today in Baghdad. There was this from the top U.S. commander there, General George Casey.

General GEORGE CASEY (Top U.S. Commander, Iraq): It's going to take another 12 to 18 months or so, though I believe the Iraqi security forces are completely capable of taking over responsibility for their own security.

CHADWICK: And they may still need U.S. help then, he said. And the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said political leaders there have agreed to what he called a timeline for the government to achieve goals, including a plan to deal with sectarian militias. One of Mr. Khalilzad's colleagues at the State Department is Ambassador David Satterfield. He's senior advisor on Iraq for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He joins us from the State Department.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

The president's spokesman, Tony Snow, said yesterday Mr. Bush's no longer using this phrase stay the course. Our goal seems to remain the same, that is a unified, Democratic Iraq that can be an ally in the war on terror. And Mr. Bush says our strategy is unchanged. What is that strategy at this point?

Ambassador DAVID SATTERFIELD (Senior Advisor on Iraq for the Secretary of State): Well, you're quite right that our goal remains the same. It is the goal of a peaceful, Democratic Iraq that's an ally in the war on terror and a bolster to stability in the region as a whole.

In terms of the strategy, we adapt and adjust continuously to achieve that goal. We are focused on getting the Iraqi government to take the lead on those critical areas: security, governance and reconciliation, and economic development that are necessary to achieve success.

Now, we as the United States, we as the coalition, and we as part of a broader international community have an obligation and an obligation that we do discharge to help the Iraqis. But they must be in the lead on these critical areas.

CHADWICK: Well, Mr. Khalilzad is talking about a timeline to be set by the end of this year for several goals. What is the timeline for addressing the militias blamed for much of the ongoing violence in Iraq? That's one the goals that the ambassador mentioned.

Ambassador SATTERFIELD: It's a critical goal. The strategic threat to Iraqis, to Iraq, to any sense of success there is the rise in sectarian violence, sectarian killings and the associated rise in the power and the threat posed by armed groups - call them militias, armed gangs, dead squads outside of the government's control. They need to be addressed urgently. The more time that passes with those groups with the sectarian violence they sow continuing, the more difficult it is to achieve a success on any of the tracks - security, political or economic in Iraq. So timeline, it's an urgent timeline.

CHADWICK: But we don't have a date in mind?

Ambassador SATTERFIELD: We are not setting specific dates. What we are urging the Iraqis to do - what Ambassador Khalilzad said the Iraqis themselves are working on is articulating through their own political leadership and to their people a set of benchmarks of goals and objectives with a sense in time, an urgent sense, of how these need to unfold.

CHADWICK: General Casey said today that we're talking to leaders of the Sunni insurgents in Iraq. How long of those talks been going on?

Ambassador SATTERFIELD: We have long been reaching out to individuals who are in touch with, are associated in one manner or another with the insurgency, with the object of achieving a demonstrable end to violence on the ground.

CHADWICK: As a part of that, Sir, are we offering an amnesty for Sunni insurgents?

Ambassador SATTERFIELD: That's not for us, as the United States, to offer. The issue of an amnesty, the issue of other changes that would facilitate national reconciliation are for the Iraqi government and Iraq's political leaders to determine. And the Iraqis have articulated the need for such steps.

CHADWICK: But would we support that? Do we think that an amnesty is a good idea?

Ambassador SATTERFIELD: We believe that an amnesty is an essential part of any national reconciliation process.

CHADWICK: The idea of amnesty would mean necessarily, I think, amnesty for insurgents who had killed Americans - have attacked American troops and are continuing to attack the American troops. That's going to very, very difficult for people to hear and accept in this country, isn't it?

Ambassador SATTERFIELD: I will make just a few points here. The first is that a decision on an amnesty is one for the Iraqi government to make to Iraqi citizens. It is not for the United States to either proffer or ultimately to concur in.

The second point is that, historically, if you look at conflict resolutions around the world, a sweeping amnesty, a broad amnesty has been part and parcel of any successful approach to reconciliation. But we have made very clear to the Iraqi government and to its political leadership that any amnesty under consideration, in our view, must not distinguish between those responsible for violence against the Americans and those responsible for violence against Iraqis. The treatment offered has to be the same.

CHADWICK: Ambassador David Satterfield, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's senior advisor on Iraq, speaking with us from his office at the State Department.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you.

Ambassador SATTERFIELD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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