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Bush and Iraqi: Frequent Talks, Limited Results

By JIM RUTENBERG and ALISSA J. RUBINJULY 25, 2007

Continue reading the main story Share This Page Continue reading the main story Photo President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney waved to Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, during a video conference call in March. Credit Eric Draper/White House

WASHINGTON, July 24 — Once every two weeks, sometimes more often, President Bush gathers with the vice president and the national security adviser in the newly refurbished White House Situation Room and peers, electronically, into the eyes of the man to whom his legacy is so inextricably linked: Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq.

In sessions usually lasting more than an hour, Mr. Bush, a committed Christian of Texas by way of privileged schooling in New England, and Mr. Maliki, an Iraqi Shiite by way of political exile in Iran and Syria, talk about leadership and democracy, troop deployments and their own domestic challenges.

Sometimes, said an official who has sat in on the meetings, they talk about their faith in God.

“They talk about the challenges they face being leaders,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss private conversations. “They, of course, also share a faith in God.”

The official declined to elaborate on the extent of their religious discussions, but said, “It is an issue that comes up between two men who are believers in difficult times, who are being challenged.”

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In the sessions, Mr. Bush views Mr. Maliki’s crisp image on a wall of plasma screens. Aides say the sessions are crucial to Mr. Bush’s attempts to help Mr. Maliki through his troubled tenure. The meetings are also typical of the type of personal diplomacy Mr. Bush has practiced throughout his presidency, exemplified by the way he warmed to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — misguidedly, in the view of some policy analysts — after Mr. Putin showed him a cross he wears that his mother gave him.

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