WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President George W. Bush confers via video link at least every two weeks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and sometimes the talks focus on their mutual faith in God, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
“They talk about the challenges they face being leaders,” an unnamed US official who has attended the meetings told the Times.
“They, of course, also share a faith in God.”
The official would not elaborate on the extent of the two leaders’ religious discussions, but told the paper: “It is an issue that comes up between two men who are believers in difficult times, who are being challenged.”
In talks often lasting more than an hour, the two have discussed leadership and democracy, the deployment of troops and their own domestic difficulties, the paper wrote.
Bush has spoken with Maliki more often than almost any foreign leader apart from British and German leaders, White House officials told the newspaper.
Bush is under mounting pressure at home over the unpopular war amid calls for a withdrawal of US troops. While Bush has asked for patience, lawmakers in his own Republican party have accused Maliki’s government of failing to deliver on promises to forge political reconciliation and crack down on militias.
During the video conferences, the US president has sought to persuade Maliki to reach out to all Iraqis and not merely his fellow Shiites to reassure concerns among Sunnis in and outside Iraq, officials told the newspaper.
“There was a lot of that discussion about the importance for Maliki to show not only to the communities in Iraq but to all of his neighbors that while it was a Shiite-led government, it was a government for all Iraqis,” a senior administration official was quoted as saying.
Bush told Maliki that,”You need to do this to be a leader for all of Iraq,’ but secondly, As you do this, it will also send a message to the region which will help you with your Sunni neighbors but, quite frankly, it will help me here at home.'”
Bush’s video conferences with Maliki are also attended by Vice President Dick Cheney and national security adviser Stephen Hadley.
White House aides say Bush’s talks with Maliki succeeded in getting the Iraqi parliament to reduce a planned two-month break this summer to a one-month vacation, the paper said.
Officials also say Maliki has fulfilled promises to commit three new Iraqi brigades to Baghdad and to give more flexibility to Iraqi and US forces pursuing Shiite militias.