Washington After clashing for weeks, President Bush and congressional Democratic leaders will sit down in private Wednesday to see whether compromise is possible on the next steps in funding the war in Iraq.
The meeting will come at a time when U.S. losses are high. April could be one of the deadliest months of the war, with at least 58 service members killed so far as of Monday. While additional American troops have helped bring down violence in Baghdad since January, it's increased in other areas of the country.
In public on Monday, the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., took hard bargaining positions on whether the United States should declare the beginning of a military withdrawal as part of the latest war-funding legislation. Compromise seemed unlikely.
Democrats also were trying to work out differences between the House of Representatives and Senate versions of the war spending bill so that they can get it to the president's desk within two weeks.
If troop withdrawal terms remain in the legislation and Bush vetoes it, as he promises, Democrats will have to find another way to try to bring U.S. military involvement in Iraq to an end, possibly by insisting in the next version of the bill that the Iraqi government meet certain benchmarks for progress, with a loss of military or economic aid as the consequence of failure.
Reid said Monday that an emphasis on benchmarks was possible if there were a veto, adding: "The president is not going to get a bill that has nothing on it. It would be wrong for this legislative branch of government to capitulate to this wrongheaded policy that the vice president and the president have been leading."
The White House hasn't publicly pushed Iraq's government to make progress toward a political settlement, arguing that Iraq can't find a political solution until the violence abates.
Bush and his supporters say a planned U.S. withdrawal would amount to defeat and encourage terrorists.
Democrats argue that American forces can't end a civil war, and that a withdrawal plan puts pressure on the Iraqi government to work harder to end the sectarian violence.
In a speech Monday from the East Room of the White House, the president said he expected to "talk out our differences" Wednesday.
Bush said that he would discuss "any way forward that does not hamstring our troops, set an artificial timetable for withdrawal and spend billions on projects not related to the war."