Bush vetoes Iraq pullout timetable in clash with Congress
May 2, 2007 - 9:15:28 AM

Washington, May 2 - US President George W. Bush, following through on his promise, has vetoed a war spending bill that would have forced him to start withdrawing US troops from Iraq by October.

The veto came hours after Democratic Party leaders Tuesday sent the $124-billion measure to the White House with the pullout deadlines, capping a well-choreographed showdown four years after he famously declared an end to 'major combat operations' in Iraq.

Speaking minutes after rejecting the bill, Bush said he could not accept a 'rigid' deadline that would send the wrong message to US troops on the ground, encourage terrorists and place 'impossible conditions' on military commanders. The bill called for US troops to be out of Iraq by April 2008.

'Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure, and that would be irresponsible,' Bush said at the White House, while accusing Democrats of using the funding issue to make political hay.

He called on Congress to send him a new bill quickly without deadlines. Democratic and Republican leaders were to meet Bush at the White House Wednesday to try to work out their differences.

'I'm confident that with goodwill on both sides, we can agree on a bill that gets our troops the money and flexibility they need, as soon as possible,' Bush said. 'The need to act is urgent.'

Bush warned that with money running out, the Pentagon would have to scramble from other accounts to continue fighting the war. He has sought to portray the Democrats as abandoning US soldiers locked in the middle of a war.

But polls show most Americans have turned against the conflict and want the White House to set a timeframe for removing US soldiers. Democrats might persuade Bush to keep language in a new bill that would set benchmarks for the Iraqi government and political reconciliation.

Both houses of Congress narrowly passed the defence bill last week, and Democrats vowed to continue fighting the White House to force Bush to change his approach in Iraq.

Responding to Bush's comments, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the president must now provide a plan for ending the US role in the war.

'If the president thinks that by vetoing this bill he'll stop us from working to change the direction of the war in Iraq, he is mistaken,' Reid said.

Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, accused Bush of failing to listen to the message sent by American voters who in November handed control of Congress to the Democrats.

'The president wants a blank cheque,' Pelosi said. 'The Congress is not going to give it to him.'

Bush in January ordered an extra 21,000 US troops to Iraq to bolster the 140,000 already in place, seeking to curb sectarian killings and bolster the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Bush cited progress in reducing sectarian killing and breaking up terrorists cells, and urged Americans to wait at least until the end of the summer to determine if his revised strategy was succeeding.

On Tuesday he travelled to the US military's Central Command in Florida, which runs US military operations in the Middle East, to make his case for a continued US presence in Iraq.

Al-Qaeda 'is playing a major role' in the Iraq violence, Bush said in a speech that evoked the 20th-century struggles against Nazism and communism. 'We must stay on the offence. We must defeat the enemy overseas so we don't have to face them in our countries,' he said.

The veto marked only the second time Bush has exercised his constitutional authority since Democrats won control of Congress in November on a platform calling for a withdrawal from Iraq. He has used his veto only once since taking office in 2001, on a stem-cell research measure passed in 2006 when his Republicans controlled Congress.

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