President Bush is delaying until sometime in January his planned report to the nation on a new strategy for the war in Iraq, the White House said Tuesday, pointing to a need for continuing internal discussions of policy and tactical shifts.
The president, said White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, "decided, frankly, it's not ready yet," even though most of the internal debates "have kind of been ironed out."
Bush is in the midst of private discussions on how to overhaul the campaign to end the civil war in Iraq. He met Tuesday in the Oval Office with Iraqi Vice President Tariq Hashimi, a member of the Sunni Muslim minority, about a month earlier than planned.
With such meetings continuing, the president will not be ready to deliver a national address on changes in strategy by the end of next week as had been planned, Snow said.
The delay means that if Bush opts for an increase in the number of troops in Iraq -- now about 140,000 -- as some experts have advocated, he will not unveil the plan until after the winter holidays.
The postponement prompted a complaint from Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, who will become the Senate majority leader when Democrats take control of Congress next month.
In the weeks since congressional elections that were seen as a rebuke of the president over his handling of the war, Reid said, Bush has done nothing but remove Donald H. Rumsfeld as secretary of Defense "and conduct a listening tour."
"Talking to the same people he should have talked to four years ago does not relieve the president of the need to demonstrate leadership and change his policy now. The ball remains in his court, and time is running out," Reid said, emphasizing that the need for change was "important and urgent."
The meeting with Hashimi was the second Bush has held this month with senior leaders visiting from Baghdad. The president met last week with Abdelaziz Hakim, leader of the largest Shiite Muslim faction in the Iraqi parliament.
With violence and shifting allegiances endemic in Baghdad, U.S. officials are trying to stabilize Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's authority, while other Iraqi politicians are seeking to form an alliance that could exclude anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr from a role in the ruling coalition.
Speaking during a photo session with Hashimi in the Oval Office after the 25-minute meeting, Bush said he and the Iraqi vice president discussed "what the United States can do to help this Iraqi government succeed."
Hashimi, who has lost three close family members to violence, echoed Bush's assessment that "there is no way but success in Iraq."
"There is a chance, and I can assure you there is a great and real chance, to get out of this present dilemma," he said. "There is a light in the corridor."
Today, he plans to visit the Pentagon to meet with officials. Robert M. Gates, who is scheduled Monday to be sworn in to office as Rumsfeld's replacement, has been taking part in the deliberations, Snow said.
Bush's consultations follow the release last week of the report of the Iraq Study Group, which is highly critical of the course the war has taken and says that conditions in Iraq are "grave and deteriorating."
The administration has sought to present the work of the bipartisan commission as just one of a number of assessments the president will take into consideration as he seeks to chart a new direction.
Snow said the delay had nothing to do with putting space between Bush's announcement and the study group report, which establishes a route for pulling most U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by early 2008.