Under fire, Bush offers talks on Iraq 'benchmarks'
May 11, 2007 - 9:20:57 AM

Washington, May 11 - US President George W. Bush has said he will consider setting benchmarks for progress in Iraq to help end a tense deadlock with Congress that is delaying money for US troops.

In a shift reflecting growing pressure from members of his own centre-right Republican Party, Bush Thursday dropped his reluctance and said, 'It makes sense to have benchmarks as a part of our discussion' with legislators.

Bush and Congress have been at an impasse for weeks as majority Democrats seek to legislate a timetable for a US troop withdrawal from Iraq, which Bush flatly rejects.

He reaffirmed that he would veto a war-spending bill that passed the House of Representatives late Thursday. The measure would pay for US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan only through July and make an extension dependent on whether Bush can report progress in Iraq.

'It won't work,' Bush told a news conference earlier in the day, saying he would 'veto the bill if it's this haphazard, piecemeal funding'.

'Time's running out, because the longer we wait, the more strain we're going to put on the military,' he said after meetings with US military leaders at the Pentagon.

No quick solution appears in sight after Bush vetoed a $124-billion war-spending bill on May 1 that would have forced him to start a pullout by October.

Including guideposts for success in Iraq in a war-spending bill could offer a way out of the deadlock, though centre-left Democrats and Republicans would have to agree on what happens if Iraq falls short of the benchmarks.

The Bush administration is pressing Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to move forcefully to curb sectarian violence, pass a law to divvy up Iraq's oil revenue and meet other long-delayed goals for national unity.

Bush ordered more than 20,000 extra troops to Iraq in January to help quell sectarian killings. On Thursday, he renewed pleas to give the strategy time to work and await a progress report expected in September from General David Petraeus, commander of US-led forces in Iraq.

With 2008 US elections looming against the backdrop of a war most Americans have come to oppose, moderate Republicans have grown increasingly impatient with Bush and the Iraqi leader.

Eleven Republicans vented their frustration Tuesday at a White House meeting with Bush, telling him that the US public's patience 'is running very, very, very thin,' one participant said.

'Members really told the president in I think the most unvarnished way... that things have got to change, that we're going to hang with him until September,' Congressman Ray LaHood told Cable News Network -.

'The American people are war-fatigued. The American people want to know that there's a way out,' he said. 'The other part of it is people are very frustrated with the Maliki government.'

Bush spokesman Tony Snow rejected the notion that Republican frustration had reached a tipping point. 'It's not a watershed moment. The president has heard real criticism before.'

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