Bush and Maliki Cannot Disguise Deep Differences and Irritation

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The New York Sun

WASHINGTON — President Bush had to confront the deep opposition of Arab allies to his support for Israel at a distinctly awkward meeting in the White House yesterday with the new Iraqi prime minister.

Standing side by side with Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq, Mr. Bush conceded they had had a “frank exchange” — diplomatic code for a testy disagreement — on the situation in Lebanon.

Mr. Maliki, who depends on American military support in Iraq for his position and even his life, stressed that he had emphasized the importance of an “immediate cease-fire.”

Mr. Bush said that was not on the American agenda and argued for a “sustainable cease-fire. We don’t want something that’s short-term.” Since the leaders met on Mr. Bush’s surprise trip to Baghdad last month, America’s hopes that Mr. Maliki might prove a strong leader have waned as sectarian killings have continued unabated.

During the two weeks of the Lebanese crisis, more civilians have been killed in Iraq than in Lebanon and Israel.

Mr. Bush was asked how he could get Arab nations to apply pressure to stop the fighting given that allies, including Mr. Maliki, would not condemn Hezbollah.

[A group of House Democrats called on GOP leaders to cancel Mr. Maliki’s address to Congress on Thursday, the Associated Press reported. Senator Schumer, a Democrat of New York, said he doubted he would attend and that there were a “large number of people [in Congress] who were uncomfortable” with Mr. Maliki’s condemnation of Israel’s attacks in Lebanon and apparent support for Hezbollah.

Mr. Maliki sidestepped a question at the White House news conference about his position on Hezbollah.

“Here, actually, we’re talking about the suffering of a people in a country. And we are not in the process of reviewing one issue or another, or any government position,” Mr. Maliki said.

Democrats criticized Mr. Maliki’s comments. “Prime Minister Maliki missed an important opportunity to state his position on Hezbollah, and instead left the impression that he does not oppose this terrorist organization’s outrageous attacks on Israel,” Senator Kerry, a Democrat of Massachusetts, said.

Mr. Kerry called on Mr. Maliki to strongly condemn the use of terror anywhere — including by Hezbollah against Israel — in his speech to Congress on Thursday.]

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