Bush Hears New Perspectives On Iraq

President George W. Bush is joined by Stephen Hadley, National Security Advisor, Vice President Dick Cheney and Chief of Staff Josh Bolten Monday, Nov. 13, 2006, during a meeting with the Baker-Hamilton Commission in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Members of the Commission include: Lee Hamilton, James Baker, Sandra Day O'Connor, William Perry, Vernon Jordan and Lawrence Eagleburger. White House photo by Eric Draper
White House Photo/Eric Draper
President Bush met Monday with a bipartisan group seeking consensus on a new approach for the war in Iraq amid widespread agreement that the administration's current efforts have not worked well enough or fast enough.

"I'm not going to prejudge," Mr. Bush said of the report.

Mr. Bush said the goal in Iraq still is "a government that can sustain and defend itself" and said "the best military options depend on conditions on the ground."

"I'm not sure what the report is going to say. I look forward to seeing it," Mr. Bush told reporters in the Oval Office at the conclusion of a separate meeting he had with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

But two ideas under consideration by the commission illustrate the challenges of reaching consensus on a way forward, CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports. One is a phased withdrawal of troops. The other is engaging Syria and Iran more directly in bringing peace to Iraq. Former Secretary of State James A. Baker himself has raised that idea.

Earlier, White House press secretary Tony Snow described the meeting as a conversation in which both sides shared views. "This is not a deposition," Snow said. Further, he said there was not a presentation of alternatives but rather an assessment of the situation on the ground now.

The president talked in the Oval Office with members of the Iraq Study Group, headed by Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton. The group is to release its findings before the end of the year.

The study group was spending the day at the White House speaking with members of Mr. Bush's national security team, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, CIA Director Michael Hayden, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalizad and Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Cheney, Hadley and chief of staff John Bolten took part in the meeting with Mr. Bush.

While Mr. Bush appears ready to change his tone on the Iraq war and listen to new ideas, there are two big hurdles facing the group regarding any kind of compromise: reaching a consensus and getting the president to accept what they come up with, reports CBS senior White House correspondent Bill Plante.

The Democrat in line to become chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee offered a grim assessment Monday on the situation in Iraq, accusing the administration of ignoring the reality that "we're getting deeper and deeper into a hole — that we should stop digging and that we should look for alternatives in order to promote the chances of success in Iraq."

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan said the study group's report "is going to have an impact on whatever action might be possible in this Congress and in the next Congress," when Democrats take control. Levin said earlier that U.S. troops should begin coming home in phases within four to six months, a loose timetable that other Democratic leaders have not endorsed.

Even before it is finished, the study group's report is seen by many as having huge stakes. It could give the Democratic and Republican parties a chance at consensus — or at least a tenable framework for agreement — after an election that gave Democrats congressional control and reshaped Mr. Bush's final two years in office.

"For the President to incorporate the ideas of the Iraq Study Group, including the not-yet-formal proposal to engage Iran and Syria, there will have to be some serious backpedaling," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk from the U.N., "particularly since the Administration's position on the Security Council sanctions negotiations continues to be to further isolate Iran."

Meanwhile, Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, met Monday with the Iraqi prime minister to "reaffirm President Bush's commitment" to success in Iraq, the government said.