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Bush Says He's Keeping Eye On Kurdish Oil Deal

Bush takes reporters' questions today at the White House (epa) WASHINGTON, September 20, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- In a White House news conference, U.S. President George W. Bush today again defended his "surge" strategy in Iraq, acknowledging that while goals haven't been met as fast as he would like, the fight must continue.

He said those goals include a country that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself and is an ally against extremists and radicals.

Bush has repeatedly said the point of his surge strategy in Iraq is to give the Iraqi government the security it needs to seek reconciliation in the divided country. One part of that effort was a national oil law that would let all Iraqis share the revenues of their country’s most valuable natural resource. That law has been a long time coming and is still stalled in Iraq's parliament.

Meanwhile, the regional government of the Kurds in northern Iraq has signed a separate contract allowing the Hunt Oil Company of Texas -- owned by a Bush supporter -- to drill for oil on its territory.

'I Knew Nothing'

Today, Bush was asked how he feels about the Hunt deal, and whether it's a factor in the delay of the national revenue-sharing law.

"Our embassy also expressed concern about it. I knew nothing about the deal. I'm -- I need to know exactly how it happened," Bush said. "To the extent that it does undermine the ability for the government to come up with [an] oil revenue-sharing plan that unifies the country, obviously I'm -- if it undermines that, I'm concerned."

But Bush added that he hasn't lost hope in the nationwide oil law. He said once it is passed, the country's Sunni, Shi'as, and Kurds will recognize that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government is serious about reconciliation.

Bush also was asked about the recent deaths of Iraqi civilians in a firefight in Baghdad involving employees of Blackwater USA, a private U.S. security contractor. At least 11 Iraqis were killed, according to local officials, and the Iraqi government has revoked Blackwater's license to operate there.

Bush expressed sorrow at the deaths, but said Blackwater had been required to follow strict rules when confronting a suspected threat. He said a joint U.S.-Iraqi panel will determine exactly what happened.

"The folks [who work at companies] like Blackwater, who provide security for the State Department, are under rules of engagement," he said. "In other words, they have certain rules. And this commission will determine whether or not they violated those rules. And I'm looking forward to finding out what the results are."

Ahmadinejad Comments

On another subject, one reporter asked about recent comments by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that the world should be prepared for war with Iran if Tehran acquires nuclear weapons.

Bush replied that the United States and its allies are still trying to resolve Iran's nuclear ambitions through diplomacy. Yet he expressed concern about some of the more strident statements made by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

"It's very important for us to take the threats coming out of the mouth of the president of Iran very seriously," Bush said. "This is a person that is, you know, constantly talks about the use of force on Israel, for example, and Israel's our very firm and strong ally."

RFE/RL Iraq Report

RFE/RL Iraq Report

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