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President Bush: Iraq power transfer deadline stands

From Wolf Blitzer

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George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush says the June 30 deadline for returning governance to Iraqis will be met.

"We are now in the process of deciding what the entity will look like -- to whom we will transfer sovereignty. But no, the date remains firm," the president said Monday.

Bush was reacting to suggestions made this weekend by several lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, that the Iraqis may not yet be ready to assume control.

"We set that date without getting the support of the U.N. We set that unilaterally. And we now are trying hard to get the U.N. involved. But without the support of the international community, that date could really backfire on us," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, said on CNN's "Late Edition" on Sunday.

Bush is hoping the United Nations and its special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, will help find a way to come up with a viable Iraqi political authority to assume control. So far, it's unclear which Iraqis will take charge.

In advance of the deadline, the president acknowledges the on-the-ground military situation in Iraq could get even worse.

"My judgment is that the closer we come to the deadline, the more likely it is people will challenge our will. In other words, it provides a convenient excuse to attack," said the president.

The June 30 deadline was announced by civil administrator Paul Bremer last November amid charges from Democratic presidential candidates that the Bush administration was getting into an Iraqi quagmire.

Democrats charged that June 30 was politically convenient for the White House -- a month before the Democratic convention in Boston and two months before the Republican convention in New York.

The White House has flatly rejected charges that the election year calendar had anything to do with the deadline.

Despite the continued criticism and the latest upsurge of Sunni and Shiite attacks aimed at U.S. and coalition forces, the president says the United States will not cut and run.

"The message to the Iraqi citizens is they don't have to fear that America will turn and run, and that's an important message for them to hear," President Bush said.

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