By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 28, 2006 – After a three-hour meeting with his national security team today, President Bush noted progress in defining the way forward in Iraq and praised servicemembers and their families for their sacrifices. Bush said input provided by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace are important parts in his deliberations in making a new strategy for Iraq.
Gates and Pace, the U.S. military's most senior civilian and military officials, respectively, traveled together during a recent trip to Iraq and provided their impressions to the president last weekend.
"They reported firsthand what they saw, what they found," Bush said. "It's an important part of coming to closure on a way forward in Iraq that'll help us achieve our objective, which is a country that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself."
Other members of the National Security Council who attended the meeting in Crawford, Texas, today included Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, and his deputy, J.D. Crouch II.
Bush told reporters that he had more consultations to make before he announces his decision on a new strategy for Iraq sometime in January. The president also said he'll continue to work with the Iraqi government, noting the key to success in Iraq is for that government to be willing to confront extremists that want to tear it down.
"The key to success in Iraq is to have a government that's willing to deal with the elements there that are trying to prevent this young democracy from succeeding," he said.
The president said he'd also consult on Iraq with both sides of the aisle in the U.S. Congress.
"Not only will I continue to reach out to Congress, but members of my team will do so as well," Bush said. "I fully understand it's important to have both Republicans and Democrats understanding the importance of this mission."
It's important that Americans know that success in Iraq is vital to the nation's security interests, Bush said.
"If we were to not succeed in Iraq, the enemy, the extremists, the radicals would have safe haven from which to launch further attacks," Bush said. "They would be emboldened. They would be in a position to threaten the United States of America."
Iraq, therefore, "is an important part of the war on terror," the president said.
Bush said he's making good progress formulating a new strategy that will help the United States and its allies achieve desired goals in Iraq.
The commander in chief praised the thousands of men and women in the U.S. military who are deployed far from home during the holidays to defend America.
"There's nobody more important in this global war on terror than the men and women who wear the uniform and their families," Bush said. "As we head into a new year, my thoughts are with them. My thoughts are with the families who have just gone through a holiday season with their loved ones overseas."
The troops' welfare is always on his mind, the president said. And, the safety of U.S. servicemembers and success in Iraq, he said, are among his wishes for the coming year.
"My thoughts are with the troops as we head into 2007," Bush said, noting his New Year's resolution "is that they'll be safe and that we'll come closer to our objective, that we'll be able to help this young democracy survive and thrive, and therefore we'll be writing a chapter of peace."
"I can't thank our families enough for supporting their loved one who wears the uniform," Bush said, adding he also can't thank enough the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coastguardsmen who wear the uniform.
"May God continue to bless them," Bush said.
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