Bush, Brown discuss Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran

June 17th, 2008 - 7:18 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Gordon Brown
London, June 16 (DPA) US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday they were in agreement that troop withdrawals from Iraq must not be subject to an “artificial timetable” as Britain announced an increase in troop levels in Afghanistan. “I have no problem with how Gordon Brown deals with Iraq,” said Bush at a joint news conference in London, following reports of differences between the two leaders over British plans to wind down operations in Iraq.

Brown, while stressing that there was still a “job to be done in Iraq” for British troops, also emphasized that progress was being made in the training of Iraqi forces and in changing Britain’s role from “combat to overwatch”.

Brown rejected suggestions that troop levels in Iraq were being reduced in order to reinforce the British contingent in Afghanistan.

“You cannot trade numbers between the two countries,” said Brown. “In Iraq there is a job to be done and we will continue to do the job, and there is going to be no artificial timetable,” said Brown.

However, he also announced that British troop levels in Afghanistan would be increased by about 200, taking Britain’s military deployment in the southern Afghan province of Helmand to above 8,000.

Bush praised Brown’s stance on terrorism and his commitment to the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“The first thing about Gordon Brown, he is tough on terrorism, and I appreciate it,” Bush told journalists. “So should the British people … You have been strong on Afghanistan and Iraq and I appreciate that. But more importantly, the people of Afghanistan and Iraq appreciate it.”

Bush admitted that the situation in Afghanistan was “tough work”.

However, it was necessary work in the interests of peace and security. “The march to democracy is never smooth,” said Bush.

On Iran’s nuclear programme, the two leaders appealed to Tehran “not to choose the path of confrontation”. However, sanctions would be intensified if Iran continued with its hard line over the nuclear issue.

“My first choice is to solve this diplomatically,” Bush said about the conflict with Iran. Brown said Britain wanted to do “everything possible” to maintain dialogue with Tehran.

“But we are also clear that if Iran continues to ignore (United Nations) resolutions, to ignore our offers of partnership, we have no choice but to intensify sanctions,” said Brown.

The two men also discussed North Korea’s nuclear programme, the situation in Zimbabwe and Myanmar, and the global crisis over food and fuel prices.

Bush, who is on the last leg of his European farewell tour, is due to visit the British province of Northern Ireland later Monday.

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