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Utah Senator Joins Group Urging Diplomatic Effort on Iraq

Utah Senator Joins Group Urging Diplomatic Effort on Iraq

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Four more senators on Thursday joined a bipartisan group urging a diplomatic effort to stabilize Iraq by making the Iraq Study Group's recommendations official U.S. policy.

Sens. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, Bob Casey, D-Pa., Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H., joined Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., arguing the plan is the way to end debate over the costly and unpopular war.

The senators plan to introduce a bill next month that would set a series of benchmarks the Iraqis must meet in exchange for continued U.S. support.

"The administration is working with the Iraqi government and engaging its neighbors to determine the next steps toward a peaceful resolution, and this bipartisan legislation will only help to augment their efforts," Bennett said in a statement.

The senators' plan is based on the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group of politicians and policy experts, which called in December for an urgent diplomatic attempt to stabilize Iraq.

Salazar and Alexander launched the effort as the Democratic-controlled Congress was locked in a standoff with President Bush over an emergency spending bill for the war. Democrats insisted in a deadline for withdrawal, and Bush refused.

The House backed off this week, agreeing to send legislation without a deadline and saying they wanted to support the troops anyway. Instead, they vowed to use 2008 defense spending to try to force an end to the war.

Even as they have accused Democrats of playing political games with war funding, nervous Republicans have quietly begun pressing Bush to bring the war to an end.

"We need a political solution in Washington, D.C., as much as we need one in Baghdad," Alexander said Thursday.

Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., joined GOP Reps. Frank Wolf of Virginia and Michael McCaul of Texas in backing a similar measure in the House.

Salazar and several other lawmakers have criticized Bush for all but ignoring the Iraq Study Group's recommendations.

The bill would create a diplomatic group to help with security in the region, speed up Iraqi oil production, encourage the Iraqis to develop a plan to distribute oil revenues, and set conditions to enable the U.S. to withdraw troops beginning in the first quarter of 2008.

"The Iraq Study Group's recommendations offer a bipartisan way forward for our nation in Iraq," Salazar said. "The fact that we have been joined by senators from both sides of the aisle shows that there is growing support in the Senate to provide a new and responsible approach that emphasizes diplomacy and transitions our military mission in Iraq from combat to support."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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