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Bush rejects plan to curb Iraq mission

Sticks to strategy despite effort by GOP moderates

WASHINGTON -- The White House is holding firm on its Iraq strategy in the face of yet another effort to curb the mission, proposed this time by moderate Republicans the Bush administration can ill afford to lose.

President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said yesterday that the administration's "very orderly process" for reviewing its Iraq plans should be allowed to play out despite a hurry-up initiative from two respected GOP senators.

Hadley replied "no" when asked whether Bush could live with the proposal by Senators John Warner of Virginia and Richard Lugar of Indiana. They want to give the president until mid-October to submit a plan to restrict the use of US troops in Iraq to fighting terrorists and securing borders and US interests.

Bush is sticking to his plan to take stock of progress in Iraq in September and decide on a course of action from there, without conditions, his aide said.

Hadley made the rounds of television talk shows to praise the initiative of the senators -- and turn thumbs down on it.

"They've done a useful service in indicating the kinds of things that we should be thinking about," Hadley said. "But the time to begin that process is September," when military commanders will make their assessments.

The Senate's Democratic leadership also is cool to the Warner-Lugar proposal, but for different reasons. Democrats favor tougher steps to restrict Bush's options, but need more Republicans to peel away from Bush before they can prevail.

The two GOP senators said nothing in their proposal would bind Bush to a withdrawal timetable or throw the September review off track.

But it does suggest that patience is running thin with Bush's course of action even among some Republicans who have been behind him.

"The president will have to make some changes and I'm confident the president will do so," Warner said.

Democratic Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, a presidential contender, predicted that enough Republicans would defect from the White House line on Iraq in the months ahead to enable the Democratic majority to overcome delaying tactics in the Senate and ultimately override any Bush veto.

But GOP unity, while strained, has not broken. Democrats are coordinating a week of maneuvering ahead that will call to account the small but growing number of wavering Republicans.

One Democratic measure last week, which sought to influence troop deployments, fell four votes short of the 60 needed to advance.

Hadley said the administration is still pressing Iraqi lawmakers to cancel their monthlong vacation in August.

The White House, however, seems resigned to seeing the break go forward, and Hadley joined other Bush aides in playing down its significance.

He pointed out that Iraqi lawmakers plan to work six days a week until the end of July and he said work will continue outside the parliament through August on sectarian reconciliation and power-sharing.

Congress also plans to take a month off, starting Aug. 3.