Leaders approve plans for Iraq exit and seek help from the UN

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George Bush and Tony Blair approved plans for an exit strategy for Iraq yesterday but denied they would turn their backs on the Iraqi people by withdrawing coalition troops too quickly. After talks in Downing Street, the US President and the Prime Minister said they would welcome the involvement of the United Nations and other countries, including those who opposed the war, in the international effort to rebuild Iraq.

A US-UK declaration said a transitional Iraqi administration should be in place by June next year, with elections for a new Iraqi government by the end of 2005. The two leaders agreed to "firm up" these plans before seeking a new UN resolution to underpin them early next year. At a press conference at the Foreign Office, President Bush denied American forces in Iraq would be scaled down early next year. If necessary, he said, he would send more forces, saying decisions on numbers would be taken by commanders on the ground. "We will finish the job we have begun," he said.

Mr Blair added: "We stay [in Iraq] until the job gets done." He said Iraq was the main battleground of the war on terrorism. We have got to make sure we defeat these terrorists, the former Saddam people, in Iraq. And we must do that because that is an essential part of defeating this fanaticism and extremism that is killing innocent people all over our world today."

While the Istanbul atrocity allowed the two leaders to stand "shoulder to shoulder" against terrorism, there was little apparent progress on issues that have caused tension between them.

No deal was reached on the Britons being held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Mr Blair said: "Either they will be tried by the military commission out there, or alternatively, they will be brought back here. It will be resolved at some point or other. It is not going to be resolved today, but it will be resolved at some point soon."

Although British sources described the President's approach as "helpful", agreement could still be two weeks away. A US source said: "We want an accommodation that works rather than to do it fast."

Nor was there any breakthrough on America's decision to impose tariffs on steel imports from Europe, despite fierce lobbying by Mr Blair. President Bush said he was committed to free trade but there had to be a "level playing field". He suggested he would make an announcement shortly before the 6 December deadline after which Europe will retaliate. "I am looking at the [World Trade Organisation] findings now and will make a timely decision," he said.

President Bush appeared to play down his doubts about the EU's plans to enhance defence co-operation. A joint statement on "effective multilateralism" said: "We seek a dynamic, mutually-reinforcing relationship between Nato and the EU, without duplication and divisiveness, and grounded in the essential Nato-EU agreements which underpin it."

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