Here's an interesting change of course in the internal debate of whether the U.S. will engage Iran and Syria. Earlier today, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley briefed the press aboard Air Force One and made the argument that the Maliki government would rather the U.S. not get involved with Iran and Syria since they were already holding talks with them. This came on the same day the State Department did its best to distance itself from reports of pending diplomatic engagement with arguments that "we are working with forces for moderation and forces that are interested in resolving differences peacefully via a negotiating table" and that "Syria and Iran have not been forces for stability or moderation in the region."
Q Is President Bush going to bring up the idea of embracing talks with Iran and Syria, with Maliki?
MR. HADLEY: I think you're going to find that Prime Minister Maliki is going to bring that up with the President. He has some strong views on that subject. As you know, the Iraqis have been talking to the Syrians, the Iraqis have been talking to the Iranians. Their view is that the future of Iraq, if it is a subject of conversation with Syrian and Iran, ought to be a conversation by Iraqis, not by others on the outside.
So this is a discussion that Iraqis have taken the lead on with both Iran and Syria, and want to take the lead on. And so I think it's a subject, actually, that Prime Minister Maliki is likely to bring up with the President.
Q So he'll say, basically, let us do this, don't you convene direct talks?
MR. HADLEY: I've said what he has said, I think, publicly. We'll see what else he says when the President and he get together.
Q Are you holding out --
Q But his point is he doesn't want the U.S. meddling in --
MR. HADLEY: I said what I said, which is what he said. And he's talked publicly about this, and I'll let his words speak for themselves.