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Bush says he's open to working on Iraq

But insists he will veto any pullout bill

President Bush met with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president. Bush says he is willing to negotiate with Democrats. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said yesterday that he wants to work with Democrats on compromise legislation to pay for the Iraq war but will carry through on his threat to veto any spending bill that sets a timetable for withdrawing US troops.

"I'm optimistic we can get something done in a positive way," Bush said in a Rose Garden news conference with leaders of the European Union.

The bill, which Bush has long threatened to veto, was expected to reach his desk today.

The House and Senate voted last week to approve the $124.2 billion measure, which also calls for troops to begin pulling out in October.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, urged Bush to reconsider his veto.

"If the president wonders why the American people have lost patience, it is because the news out of Iraq grows worse by the day," Reid said. "When we send the supplemental conference report to President Bush tomorrow, we ask that he take some time to reflect on that somber fact."

Bush said that once he vetoes the bill, he's ready to work with Democrats on a new version that provides funds without strings attached.

"There are a lot of Democrats who understand we need to get the money to the troops," he said.

Democratic congressional aides said they anticipate Bush will veto the bill tomorrow before a meeting the president has scheduled at the White House with bipartisan congressional leaders, including Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California.

Bush said the measure includes "artificial timetables for withdrawal. But that's not the only bad thing about the bill. It also imposes the judgment of people in Washington on our military commanders and diplomats. It also adds domestic spending that's unrelated to the war. "

"I have made my position very clear. The Congress chose to ignore it, and so I will veto the bill," Bush said.

On another matter, Bush said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might meet with Iranian diplomats later this week on the sidelines of a meeting in Egypt on Iraq.

"Should the foreign minister of Iran bump into Condi Rice, Condi won't be rude. She's not a rude person. I'm sure she'll be polite," Bush said.

The administration in the past has resisted engaging Iran diplomatically on Iraq because of the stalemate over Tehran's nuclear uranium enrichment program. But, in recent days, the administration has signaled more flexibility.

Rice will "also be firm in reminding the representative of the Iranian government that there's a better way forward for the Iranian people than isolation," Bush said.

He called Iran "a significant threat to world peace, today and in the future" because of its nuclear weapons ambitions. He immediately amended his remarks, saying, " 'today' is the wrong word -- in the future. They don't have a weapon today."

Tehran insists it is developing nuclear energy to meet electricity demands, not to build weapons.

Bush said US and European leaders were together in backing enforcement of UN resolutions on Iran to allow inspections of nuclear facilities.

Bush said that the United States and the EU are "united in sending this very clear message" to Iran.

Bush met with José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU .