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President Bush welcomes Prime Minister Jaafari to the Oval Office as part of a White House campaign to sharpen America' focus on Iraq at a time of declining poll numbers for the president.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the visit will be a chance for both men to discuss the way forward in Iraq as Prime Minister Jaafari's government draws nearer an August deadline for a new constitution.
"Prime Minister Jaafari is a courageous leader who is committed to building a free and democratic future for Iraq and committed to building a better future for the Iraqi people. This visit does come at a critical time in Iraq's historic transformation," said Mr. McClellan.
Mr. McClellan says President Bush is committed to completing the mission in Iraq and supporting Iraqis who are defying the insurgency by working toward democracy.
"They are making significant progress on the political front in a very short period of time. Now there are challenges that lie ahead, and I expect that the two leaders will be talking about those challenges," he added.
White House officials are refocusing on Iraq at a time when a CBS News/New York Times public opinion poll shows only 37 percent of Americans approving of the president's handling of the war of Iraq. That's down from 45 percent in February.
The poll says two-thirds of Americans feel the country is going in the wrong direction and just over half disapprove of the way the president is doing his job.
Mr. Bush will highlight his commitment to Iraq in a joint press availability with Prime Minister Jaafari Friday. He will also make remarks next Tuesday on the one-year anniversary of the hand-over of Iraqi sovereignty.
So far, the president's sharpening focus on Iraq has sought to remind Americans of the link he has drawn between the war and an issue that still enjoys strong support: fighting terrorism.
Previewing Prime Minister Jaafari's visit, Mr. McClellan repeated the president's assertion that U.S. troops are fighting terrorists in Iraq so they do not have to fight them in America.
"Iraq is a central front in the war on terrorism," he noted. "The terrorists know that a free Iraq will be a significant blow to their ideology of hatred and oppression. It will help to transform a dangerous region of the world. This is a key test for freedom and a key test for defeating the ideology of tyranny and oppression."
Prime Minister Jaafari met Thursday with Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. National Security Advisor Steve Hadley. He had talks with members of Congress and lunch with the former U.S. Administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremmer.
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