By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
June 25, 2008 - President Bush today welcomed Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to the White House as a friend of the United States and as the leader of a free country. After meeting with the Iraqi chief executive, Bush hailed Talabani as "a man who has been on the front lines of helping to unify Iraq and to help Iraq recover from a brutal regime, that of Saddam Hussein."
The two leaders discussed ongoing negotiations to establish a strategic framework agreement between Iraq and the United States, Bush told reporters. The agreement, among other things, would determine how U.S. servicemembers in Iraq would be treated under Iraqi law. A ratified agreement would replace a United Nations resolution that expires Dec. 31.
Bush and Talabani also were expected to discuss long-term political, economic and security ties between their two nations.
Bush complimented Talabani for his efforts to improve security and to implement political reconciliation and needed legislative changes.
"He and his fellow officials are reaching out to all aspects of society to help people realize the blessings of a free life," Bush said.
The Iraqi economy has improved under Talabani's stewardship, Bush noted, while the mood of the Iraqi populace has become correspondingly more upbeat.
"I'm proud of what you've done. And I thank you for the tough decisions, so that the people of a free Iraq can realize hopes and dreams," Bush said of Talabani's accomplishments.
Talabani said he is grateful for Bush's praise. The Iraqi president hailed Bush as "a liberator of Iraq" who delivered the Iraqi people "from the worst kind of dictatorship."
Iraq and the United States are making good progress in crafting a new security framework agreement, Talabani noted.
The Iraqi president pledged that his country and the United States will "continue our cooperation in our struggle against terrorism and for promotion of democracy in Iraq and in [the] Middle East."
"We are proud to have such good friends here in this great country," Talabani said.
Talabani predicted that his government's legislature would pass new oil and election laws by the end of the year. Meanwhile, he said, reconciliation efforts to convince Iraq's Sunni citizens to join the country's national unity government are continuing.
Large swaths of Iraq have been made safer against incursions by terrorists and illegal militias, said Talabani, who acknowledged that U.S. military support has helped Iraqis to realize increased security within their country.
"I am again here to thank our great friend President Bush and the American people for their sacrifice and their support for [the] Iraqi people," Talabani said.
Iraq has improved its relations with Kuwait, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, Talabani reported, while it has normalized relations with Iran and Syria. Iraq and Iran had fought a bloody, costly war in the 1980s.
Today, the Iraqi government "is going to play its role in the Arab world," Talabani said, noting his government is engaged with Iraq's neighbors.