PM to ministers: Keep mum on Baker report, it is internal U.S. matter
Olmert: Bush unlikely to change stance on Syria, Iran; Iraqi president rejects report's recommendations.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday instructed his cabinet to avoid discussing the Baker-Hamilton report on the war in Iraq, calling it an internal American issue.
The bipartisan report, released last Wednesday, says that the stabilization of Iraq depends, among other things, on addressing the Israeli-Arab conflict. It also calls for U.S. dialog with Iran and Syria.
"We heard the position of President Bush and there is no need to add anything to that. I do not recommend comments on this sensitive topic," he said during the weekly cabinet meeting.
"I do not believe that Bush will change his position on the issue of Syria and Iran," he added.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday all but rejected the idea of talks with Iran about quelling the violence in Iraq, unless Tehran first acts to rein in its suspected nuclear weapons program.
In her first comment about the Iraq Study Group report, Rice was cool to its recommendation that the United States actively engage with the Tehran and Damascus regimes.
Saudis welcome Baker recommendations on Israelis, PalestiniansSaudi Arabia on Sunday welcomed the Baker report's emphasis on a need for more attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The issue of the Palestinians has poisoned the air," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told a news conference after a meeting of the heads of Gulf Arab states in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
"We hope that in coming to decisions about what is to be done ... the realities of the region will be taken into decisions and the counsel of the countries of the region will be taken into consideration."
Prince Faisal also praised the report for suggesting that the Iraqi constitution might need rewording - a central Sunni demand in Iraq, where Shi'ite Muslims have held sway since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
Iraq President rejects Baker recommendationsIraq's president Sunday rejected recommendations by the U.S. bipartisan Iraq Study Group, calling them dangerous and an insult to Iraqis.
"I think the Baker-Hamilton report is unfair and unjust," Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, told journalists at his Baghdad residence, referring to the group's report, which recommends changing U.S. policy in Iraq to pave the way for a U.S. troop withdrawal in early 2008.
"It contains very dangerous articles that undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and its constitution," he said. "I consider the report to be a type of insult to the Iraqi people."
The report by the Iraq Study Group, led by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, urged more centralized control of Iraq's vast oil wealth and embedding thousands more U.S. advisers in Iraq's security forces to quicken their training.
"It asks that they put foreign officers in every unit, which is a violation of Iraq's sovereignty ... What will remain of our sovereignty?" he said.
"The report has a mentality that we are a colony where they impose their conditions and neglect our independence."
But Hamilton said on Sunday that changing the primary U.S. military mission in Iraq from combat to training Iraqi forces was the best option for stabilizing the country.
"If you put Americans in with Iraqi forces, one thing that is sure is you improve the quality of the Iraqi forces," Hamilton said on NBC's Sunday program, "Meet the Press," where he appeared with Baker.
U.S. President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki agreed at a summit in Jordan last month to speed up the training of the 300,000-strong Iraqi forces so they can assume security command from the U.S military.
Maliki has complained that he cannot effectively combat sectarian and insurgent violence if he does not have control over his own forces, which are still largely under U.S. command. He said after meeting Bush he expected Iraqi forces to assume control by next June.
Talabani said the solution to his country's problems lay in giving Iraq control of its own security.
"The Iraqi people are able to rule the country ... many people ask why there is no security, and that's because our hands are tied. The Prime Minister cannot move 10 soldiers from one place to another (without U.S. authorization)," he said.
Baker told NBC the Iraqi government needs to produce a national reconciliation between Kurds, Shi'ites and Sunnis, including former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party, if the country hopes to achieve stability.
"That is the critical area and the critical issue," Baker said. "If the Iraqi government cannot implement national reconciliation, we're going to have an extraordinarily difficult time."
Hamilton defends study group's reportThe chairmen of the Iraq Study Group on Sunday defended their report against critics and said it offered a "responsible way" forward.
"What we're saying in this report is we want to conclude this war, we want to conclude it in a responsible way," Hamilton said.
He said the report's recommendations offered the best option, amid divergent calls for increasing troop numbers in Iraq and pulling forces out immediately.
"That's the best way to go forward that we can see," Hamilton told Fox News on Sunday.
"We do not want American forces involved in sectarian clashes or violence, that's not our business," Hamilton said. "We do have some business there and that's to get rid of al Qaeda and the terrorists and of course to protect our own forces."