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Bush Discusses Iraq With Foreign Leaders

Bush Discusses Iraq With Foreign Leaders

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CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) -- Amid fresh violence in Iraq, President Bush discussed military operations Friday with national security aides and with three foreign leaders who have sent troops.

Bush spoke by phone with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Presidents Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland and Francisco Flores of El Salvador.

Nearly 3,000 Italian troops and paramilitary police are serving in Iraq, 2,400 Polish and 380 Salvadoran.

Seventeen Italians have died in Iraq and one soldier each from El Salvador and Poland.

Bush discussed "the current situation in Iraq" with the men, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "All four leaders reaffirmed their shared commitment to helping the Iraqi people realize a free and democratic future," he said.

The leaders promised to help defeat the "minority, extremist elements who seek to derail the transition to democracy through a violent power play," McClellan said.

Bush also gave his condolences to Flores for the death of Natividad Mendez Ramos, 19, a Salvadoran killed Sunday near Najaf. An additional 12 Salvadorans were wounded Sunday.

Bush did not speak with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who was plunged into his deepest crisis since taking office when three Japanese were abducted in Iraq.

Their captors threatened to burn the Japanese hostages alive unless Japan withdrew from Iraq within three days. In Japan, thousands of protesters pressed the government Friday to pull out.

Vice President Dick Cheney left for Asia on Friday, carrying a personal appeal to Japanese leaders to resist pressure from the kidnappers.

Bush received an update on military operations in Iraq in a National Security Council videoconference with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; White House chief of staff Andy Card; national security adviser Condoleezza Rice; CIA Director George Tenet; Gen. John Abizaid, head of Central Command; the top American in Iraq, Paul Bremer; and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. general in Iraq.

They discussed U.S. military operations in Fallujah and other parts of Iraq, including the drive to defeat radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his "extremist militia," McClellan said.

They also talked about a threat by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian believed to be running a terror network of attacks during Iraqi Shiite pilgrimages to southern Iraq. The pilgrimage is the "type of large gathering that Zarqawi has talked about attacking and then seeking to blame the coalition," McClellan said.

Rice was to arrive at Bush's ranch Friday, where the Bush family was gathering for the Easter weekend.

The president's parents, mother-in-law, daughters and Rice planned to attend church together Sunday at Fort Hood, Texas.

On Saturday, Bush and his father were to go fishing at the ranch's bass pond with a crew from the Outdoor Life Network's "Fishing with Roland Martin."

The White House approached the network about coming to film Bush, who is eager to cultivate an image as a sportsman with the millions of voters who hunt and fish. The crew was to bring its own boat for the shoot on the small pond.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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