June 1, 2004
WASHINGTON - President Bush on Tuesday welcomed the formation of a new Iraqi interim government, saying it brings that country "one step closer" to democracy.
But the president cautioned that the transfer of authority to a new interim Iraqi government could be accompanied by an increase, rather than a lessening, of violence.
"There's still violent people who want to stop progress. Their strategy hasn't changed. They want to kill innocent lives and shake our will. They're not going to shake our will," Bush told reporters in the White House Rose Garden after the naming of a new 33-member Iraqi government.
"This is a very hopeful day for the Iraqi people and the American people. It's going to send a clear signal that terrorists can't win," the president said.
Bush said he had "no role" in the selection of the leaders. But he said he believed the formation of the new government would help ease the way for a new U.N. resolution seeking to set the stage for stability in Iraq.
Earlier, his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, called the announcement "a positive step for the future of a free Iraq."
"These are not America's puppets," she said.
Bush said he had spoken earlier in the day with U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan to praise the work done by the United Nations in helping to assemble the new government.
Annan said in New York that the process of choosing an interim government wasn't perfect but the United Nations did "exactly what we set out to do."
"It was never intended that the United Nations will go and appoint and impose a government on the Iraqis," he said. "We have to discuss it and given the circumstances and the factors on the ground, it is not surprising that you have a mix of people from the Governing Council and from outside who are forming the new government."
In particular, Bush praised the work of U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
"Consulting with hundreds of Iraqis from a variety of backgrounds, Mr. Brahimi has recommended a team that possesses the talent, the commitment and the resolve to guide Iraq through the challenges that lie ahead," Bush said.
Bush has been seeking more international help in stabilizing Iraq.
But, asked if the formation of a new government would help pave the way for more foreign troops, Bush said:
"I don't know if there will be a major commitment of new troops, but I think that there will be a major focus on helping Iraq become a free country."
Bush said that while the interim Iraqi council was being given "full sovereignty," U.S. troops would remain. He cited comments earlier in the day by Iraq's new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, that Iraq needs help from U.S. and other multinational forces to help defeat "the enemies of Iraq."
The statement was widely seen a prelude to the new government negotiating an agreement that would allow troops of the U.S.-led coalition to continue operating in the country.
"I am confident" that the new Iraqi leadership want the U.S. military to remain, Bush said. "People on the ground...the Iraqis, feel comfortable in asking us to stay."
"The naming of the new interim government brings us one step closer to realizing the dream of millions of Iraqis: a fully sovereign nation with a representative government that protects their rights and serves their needs," Bush said.
Clearly in a buoyant mood, Bush took questions in the Rose Garden for about 30 minutes.
He said the next step is getting approval of a new U.N. Security Council resolution to set conditions under which the interim government will operate and setting up a mechanism for moving toward elections next year.
"I've been speaking with a variety of world leaders, to encourage them to - by telling them we're willing to work with them to achieve language we can live with but, more importantly, language that the Iraqi government can live with," he said.
Bush, who made a surprise visit to U.S. troops in Baghdad on Thanksgiving, said he would like to return for a longer visit - but could not say when Iraq would be a safe enough place to permit such a visit.
He shrugged off some criticism of the United States by Iraq's new president, Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, who was named president of the interim government after the Americans' preferred candidate turned down the post.
"Mr. Brahimi put together a government that's going to be, first and foremost, loyal to the Iraqi people. And that's important. It's a government with which I believe we can work," Bush said.
Earlier, Rice hailed the development, calling it "a positive step for the future of a free Iraq." Secretary of State Colin Powell said the administration will now hold discussions with the leaders of the interim government on its relationship with the U.S.-led military coalition.
Meanwhile, he said, the U.N. Security Council will move ahead on a new resolution on Iraq, taking proposed revisions to a joint U.S.-British draft into account, Powell said.
Rice warned that "it is possible there could be an increase in violence for a while" as Iraqi militants test the power of the new government.
"In the short term you could see more violence," she said. "The important thing is the political process is under way and is continuing," she told a White House briefing.
Rice said she believed nations that had been skeptical of U.S. policy on Iraq might now be more willing to support such a U.N. resolution, given the changed political landscape in Iraq. "I do believe people see this as now moving forward," she said.