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Blair, Bush Discuss Iraq in Joint Press Conference


President Bush and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair are holding a joint press conference in the White House at this hour, where they are discussing the war in Iraq.

President Bush said that during Mr. Blair's recent visit to Iraq, Iraqi leaders outlined an aggressive plan to improve security and basic services.

He said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has vowed to use maximum force to defeat terrorists and vowed to ban illegal militias and armed gangs.

Mr. Bush said the violence in Iraq has been difficult for the civilized world to comprehend, but he still believes the decision to remove Saddam Hussein was correct.

The president said that with the creation of the new Iraqi government, terrorists are now fighting a free and constitutional government.

Mr. Blair's two-day visit comes as both he and Mr. Bush are under pressure to withdraw troops. Both men have also had their political fortunes decline, in part because of Iraq, which has been wracked by insurgent and sectarian violence since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Mr. Blair said that while he is certain the challenges that lie ahead in Iraq are immense, he is equally certain that coalition forces should rise to meet that challenge.

He called on the international community to unite and support Iraq's democratically elected unity government. He said it is important to note that Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurds are working together to improve Iraq's economy and infrastructure and fight against sectarianism.

The prime minister said the violent forces at work in Iraq are the same forces that are causing bloodshed in countries such as the United States and Britain.

He also said that although the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein divided the international community, he believes it was the right thing to do.

Mr. Bush says U.S. military leaders will make all decisions about U.S. troop levels in Iraq by consulting with Iraqi officials.

He said those decisions will be based on the conditions on the ground, but he said the American people should know that the United States will keep the force level that is necessary to win.

Mr. Blair said that during his talks with a wide variety of Iraqi officials, none wanted coalition forces to withdraw precipitously.

Mr. Bush was also asked about the standoff with Iran over its nuclear program.

The president said a goal he shares with the British Prime Minister is to convince the world that an Iran with nuclear weapons would be dangerous.

Mr. Bush said it is up to Iran to suspend its enrichment activities, and that the current halt in negotiations came after Iranian officials abandoned talks.

The president said he read the letter Iran's president recently sent to him, but he said the letter did not address whether Iran would press for a nuclear weapon.

Blair Calls Iran a "Great Country"

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair says Iran is a "great country," but Tehran needs to realize that it must fulfill its international obligations.

Mr. Blair said the West's position on Iran's nuclear ambitions is a reasonable one that allows for progress. He underscored that the West wants to resolve the Iran nuclear conflict through multilateral institutions.

The prime minister added that Britain and its allies have no issues with the people of Iran.

Mr. Blair repeated his call to the international community to tackle urgent issues such as the nuclear standoff with Iran and global poverty.

Addressing violence in Iraq, Mr. Blair said people view attacks as a setback, when the bloodshed should evoke a renewed sense of urgency to defeat the insurgents.

President Bush noted that he appreciates the fact that Mr. Blair has never suggested changing tactics based on opinion polls. Both Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush have suffered declining approval ratings in opinion polls.

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