Bush Denies Picking Leaders

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Sammon, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Bush yesterday said he had nothing to do with the selection of Iraq's interim government and insisted that the new leaders are not puppets of the U.S. government, hours after congratulating some of them in personal telephone conversations.

"I had no role in picking - zero," Mr. Bush said in the Rose Garden. "It's going to be up to the leaders to prove their worth to the Iraqi citizens. In other words, the leaders are going to have to show the Iraqis that they're independent."

Mr. Bush also said although Iraq's fledgling government might occasionally tell U.S. military to "get out of the way" after the June 30 transfer of sovereignty, it will have no authority to prevent the troops from defending themselves.

"The American people need to be assured that if our troops are in harm's way, they will be able to defend themselves without having to check with anybody else - other than their commander," he said.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Bush called Iraq's new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, and president, Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, to offer congratulations and cooperation.

"The naming of the new interim government brings us one step closer to realizing the dream of millions of Iraqis: a fully sovereign nation with a representative government that protects their rights and serves their needs," he said.

When reminded that Mr. Allawi had blamed the United States for failing to adequately plan for the challenges of postwar Iraq, Mr. Bush pointed out that U.S. troops had secured oil fields that are helping to pay for Iraq's reconstruction.

"I fully understand a leader willing to speak their mind," the president said.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice lauded the naming of the new government, which includes six women.

"I can tell you firmly and without any contradiction, this is a terrific list, a really good government, and we are very pleased with the names that have emerged," she said at the White House.

Miss Rice denied press reports that the administration favored former Iraqi foreign minister Adnan Pachachi over Mr. al-Yawer for the largely symbolic post of interim Iraqi president. Mr. Pachachi, 81, took himself out of contention for "personal reasons."

"The United States did not have a single candidate for president," she said. "The idea that we had single candidates is simply wrong."

Mr. Bush said he has "been speaking with a variety of world leaders" on the wording of a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would endorse the transfer of sovereignty.

"One of the interesting things I've heard from other leaders: 'Are you really going to pass full sovereignty?'" the president said."And the answer is: 'Yes, we're going to pass full sovereignty.'

"We're willing to work with them to achieve language we can live with but, more importantly, language that the Iraqi government can live with," he added. …