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Archive for Monday, November 27, 2006

Bush plans high-stakes diplomacy in Europe, Mideast

November 27, 2006

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— President Bush reaches out to allies this week for help in quelling violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a burst of diplomacy from a Baltic summit of NATO partners to Mideast talks with Iraq's prime minister.

Just back from an eight-day trip to Asia, Bush was leaving today on another overseas trip as pressure builds at home for a change in his administration's Iraq strategy amid deepening tensions and violence in that country.

The president stops first in Estonia en route to a NATO summit in neighboring Latvia where a debate about peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan is expected to dominate.

Estonia and Latvia have sent troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. considers the two former Soviet republics important allies.

From Latvia, the president heads to Amman, Jordan, for two days of talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Jordan was deemed a less dangerous setting for the meeting than Baghdad.

White House aides said the meeting, a late addition to Bush's itinerary, was part of the president's process of sounding out various parties as he ponders how to proceed in Iraq.

Iran and Syria are trying to assert influence in stabilizing Iraq without American involvement, and tensions in the region increased further last week with the assassination of a Cabinet member in the U.S.-backed democratic government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora - a killing some have blamed on Syria. Also, sectarian attacks in Iraq have surged in recent days.

Jordan's King Abdullah said Sunday that tensions in the Middle East go beyond the war in Iraq and that much of the region could become engulfed in violence unless the central issues are addressed quickly.

"We could possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars on our hands," he said on ABC's "This Week," citing conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon and the decades-long strife between the Palestinians and Israelis.

At the NATO gathering Tuesday and Wednesday in Riga, Latvia, Bush will press for a heavier financial and military commitment from many of the alliance's 26 members.

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