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Monday, November 27, 2006

Baker panel said set to push for talks with Syria, Iran on Iraq

Last update - 09:17 27/11/2006

Baker panel said set to push for talks with Syria, Iran on Iraq

By Reuters

A draft report prepared for an influential panel considering United States
alternatives for Iraq urges direct talks with Iran and Syria, but sets no
schedule for troop withdrawal, The New York Times reported on Monday.

The bipartisan commission, known as the Iraq Study Group and led by former
Secretary of State James Baker, is likely to accept the report's diplomatic
recommendations for U.S. dialogue with Iraq's neighbors, Iran and Syria, the
Times said, citing interviews with unidentified officials.

But the group may be split over setting timetables for American troop
withdrawal, the newspaper said.

The draft will serve as a basis for discussions by the panel's 10 members,
headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from
Indiana, when they convene in Washington on Monday.

The meeting could extend beyond its two scheduled days, the Times said.

The group's long-anticipated report, preparation of which was reported well
before the Democrats' congressional election victories on November 7, is
expected to be presented to President George W. Bush next month.

Bush, scheduled to begin a trip on Monday that includes a meeting with Iraqi
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Jordan, is not bound to accept the group's

The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Security Council are also working on
similar studies.

But the panel is likely to command significant influence because of its
bipartisan makeup and its co-chairmanship by Baker, a Republican who is very
close to Bush's father and served in the elder Bush's administration.

Some Baker-Hamilton commission members are considering proposals to withdraw a
significant number of U.S. forces from Iraq as quickly as a year from now even
if Iraq's own military is not ready to defend the country, the Times said.

Under one proposal, the size of the U.S. force in Iraq, currently at 150,000,
would be halved within a year, it said.

The newspaper quoted one commission member as saying the group may not be able
to reach a consensus on troop withdrawals.

Although the commission, an independent advisory group created at the
suggestion of several members of Congress, has met several times to interview
officials, this week's meeting will be its members' first opportunity to
deliberate its recommendations, the newspaper said.

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