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Bush expected to outline new Iraq plan in early January

CRAWFORD, Texas -- President Bush vowed Thursday to work on persuading a skeptical Congress and the nation that a new strategy for Iraq will succeed, but stopped short of providing any details of the plan.

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CRAWFORD, Texas -- President Bush vowed Thursday to work on persuading a skeptical Congress and the nation that a new strategy for Iraq will succeed, but stopped short of providing any details of the plan.

"I've got more consultation to do until I talk to the country about the plan," Bush said after meeting at his ranch with national security advisers.

Bush is expected to outline in early January what he is calling "a new way forward" in Iraq. Options he is considering include an infusion of up to 30,000 more troops to stabilize Baghdad -- a proposal that has drawn sharp criticism from Democrats and some military officials.

Bush met for nearly three hours with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others. A portion of their time was spent hearing from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about their recent trip to Baghdad.

"The key to success in Iraq is to have a government that's willing to deal with the elements there that are trying to prevent this young democracy from succeeding," Bush said.

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The president has said he believes that nourishing a successful democracy in Iraq hinges on putting a reasonable end to the violence there.

When the new, Democratic-led Congress reconvenes next week, one of the first orders of business will include hearings on Iraq by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.

Biden, who is considering a run for president, said he will call Rice as a key witness. He is among those in Congress calling for consideration of a three-way partitioning of Iraq as a way to end the factional violence there.

But Bush is unlikely to support partitioning. A unified, democratic Iraq is the priority for Bush, who would consider dividing the nation along religious and ethnic lines a defeat.

The president, spending six days at his Central Texas retreat, will cut his visit short by a few hours Monday and fly to Washington for funeral ceremonies honoring former President Gerald Ford.

Bush said recently that he regards the recent elections, which gave big gains to Democrats, a signal that Americans want a new direction in Iraq. He said he will reach out to the new Congress in making the case for his plan.

"I fully understand it's important to have both Republicans and Democrats understanding the importance of this mission," he said. "It's important for the American people to understand success in Iraq is vital for our own security."

He said his top concern at the moment are troops in Iraq.

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"People always ask me about a New Year's resolution," he said. "My resolution is that they will be safe and that we'll come closer to our objective."

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