President Bush vowed on Thursday to adopt a new strategy for Iraq and outline it in a major speech soon as he made his first substantive response to a bipartisan panel's finding his Iraq policy has failed and time is running out for changing course.
"I believe we need a new approach," Bush said a day after the panel, the Iraq Study Group, prodded him to change direction in Iraq.
A senior White House official said Bush's speech to Americans outlining his new policy was likely before Christmas.
Bush rejected direct talks with Iran and Syria, a central recommendation by the panel, but said he was open to the two countries participating in an international support group for Iraq if they met certain tough conditions.
To what extent the Iraq Study Group's 79 recommendations will figure into Bush's new strategy was left unclear at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his closest ally on Iraq.
Bush said he would not accept every recommendation by the panel and while he would take the report seriously, he would consider internal reviews being conducted by the Pentagon and the State Department before proceeding.
The study group report on Wednesday advised Bush to push the Iraqi government toward independence and avoid "a slide toward chaos" by launching a diplomatic drive to include Iran and Syria and a sustained commitment to Arab-Israeli peace.
Bush said he would only talk to Tehran if it suspended uranium enrichment, which Iran has refused, and he accused Syria of disrupting the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
To include Iran and Syria in an international support group is possible, he said, if they stop funding terrorism and help Iraq's economy.
US troop cuts possible
Bush did not shut the door on another important recommendation from the panel, a call for a rapid increase in the training of Iraqi forces to allow most U.S. combat troops to pull out of Iraq by early 2008.
"I thought that made a lot of sense. I've always said we'd like our troops out as fast as possible. I think that's an important goal," Bush said, while adding his usual language that it depended on having an Iraqi government that can defend itself and govern.
US voters were widely seen as repudiating Bush's approach in Iraq in November 7 elections in which his Republican Party lost control of the US Congress and Blair has been under fire at home for his staunch support of Washington.
The US military confirmed that at least 11 US soldiers were killed in the insurgency this week, bringing to at least 30 the number killed in December. More than 2,900 US soldiers have been killed since the US-led invasion in 2003. Scores of Iraqis also die each week in sectarian fighting between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims.
Bush replied testily to a questioner who asked whether he was in denial about how bad conditions in Iraq are. "Make no mistake about it: I understand how tough it is," Bush said. "It's bad in Iraq."