Bush to announce conditional troop cut

President Bush will tell the nation this week he plans to reduce the American troop presence in Iraq by about 30,000 by next summer, but will condition those and further cuts on continued progress, The Associated Press has learned.

In a prime-time television address, probably Thursday, Bush will endorse the recommendations of his top general and top diplomat in Iraq, following their appearance at two days of hearings in Congress, administration officials said. The White House plans to issue a written status report on the so-called “surge” on Friday, they said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Bush’s speech is not yet finally drafted. White House officials were preparing the address even as the U.S. commanding general, David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker were presenting arguments to stay the course in Iraq in a second day of testimony on Capitol Hill.

The reductions envisioned by the White House mirror those proposed by Petraeus and would leave approximately 130,000 U.S. troops on the ground by August, roughly the level at which they were before Bush ordered the buildup early this year, the officials said.

In the speech, the president will say he understands the deep concerns Americans have about U.S. involvement in Iraq and their desire to bring the troops home, they said. Bush will say that after hearing from Petraeus and Crocker, he has decided on a way forward that will reduce the number of troops but not abandon Iraq, they said.

The address will stake out a conciliatory tone toward Congress but Bush will place more conditions on the pace of reductions to the pre-buildup level of 130,000 than Petraeus did.

At the White House Tuesday afternoon, Bush met with House and Senate lawmakers of both parties to discuss Iraq. He publicly pledged to consider their input. “It’s very important before I make up mind that I consult with leaders of the House and the Senate,” he said.

Bush will also adopt Petraeus’ call for more time to determine the timing and scale of withdrawals below the 130,000 mark and offer to report to Congress in March about such plans, one official said.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said Petraeus and Crocker had presented compelling arguments about “what appears to be trend lines that are pointing to success” and that “if you’ve got something that is succeeding, you want more of it.”

He denied, however, that he was offering a preview of what Bush would tell the nation. “Whether the president agrees or disagrees, we’re going to find out,” Snow told reporters on Tuesday.

Republican support for the Iraq war remains on shaky ground in Congress, epitomized by heated questioning Tuesday by GOP senators of the general’s recommendations. But support for the plan hasn’t been lost entirely.

Many rank-and-file Republicans say they are deeply uneasy about keeping troops in Iraq through next summer, but they also remain reluctant to embrace legislation ordering troops home by next spring. Democrats had anticipated that a larger number of Republicans by now would have turned against Bush on the war because of grim poll numbers and the upcoming 2008 elections.

If Republican support for the war holds, as it might for now, Democrats would have to soften their approach if they want to pass an anti-war proposal. But they remain under substantial pressure by voters and politically influential anti-war groups to settle for nothing less than ordering troop withdrawals or cutting off money for the war — legislation that has little chances of passing.