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Bush Mideast Tour Shifts to Gulf Allies

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

President Bush is in the tiny Gulf nation of Bahrain tonight. He'll visit the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

Earlier today, he had a chance to thank U.S. troops based in Kuwait. He also got an update on the war in Iraq from his commander, General David Petraeus and the ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker.

NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the president and filed this report.

MICHELE KELEMEN: President Bush says he thinks Iraq is a different place from a year ago. Violence is down and hope is returning. But as for hopes that U.S. troops can begin to draw down faster, Mr. Bush said that will depend on the conditions on the ground and on what General David Petraeus thinks he needs.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: My attitude is if he didn't want to continue the drawdown, that's fine with me, in order to make sure we succeed, see. I said to the general, if it's - if you want to slow her down, fine, it's up to you.

KELEMEN: When reporters pressed Petraeus about this, he would give no promises.

General DAVID PETRAEUS (Commander, Multi-National Force - Iraq, U.S. Army): We've begun to analyze the possible alternatives and to look at the possibility for reductions beyond the reduction of 15 brigades in July.

KELEMEN: But President Bush didn't get into that sort of detail when he spoke to several thousand troops gathered at the Arifjan military base south of Kuwait City.

Pres. BUSH: Hoo-ah(ph).

KELEMEN: The president thanked them for serving and said the U.S. is in an ideological struggle in the Middle East.

Pres. BUSH: It's hard work that you've done, but it's necessary work. It's hard to be away from your home. But that's a soldier's life.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. BUSH: And you get to e-mailing your family, you tell them I check in with you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. BUSH: And you're looking pretty good.

(Soundbite of applause)

KELEMEN: The crowd was not overly enthusiastic, though. Sergeant Jamie Serrano(ph), who's on his third tour doing logistical support for the Iraq war, says he was glad the president came to Camp Arifjan but he was hoping for something more.

Sergeant JAMIE SERRANO (U.S. Army): He just gave us thanks, which we appreciate. But as far foreseeing the future and - I thought - I expected more.

KELEMEN: A member of a National Guard unit from Tennessee, Specialist Outlaw(ph), didn't even really want to be there.

Specialist OUTLAW (U.S. Army): I'm kind of mad because I could have been sleeping right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Spc. OUTLAW: Yeah. We've got voluntold to come here so, it's all right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Spc. OUTLAW: Don't mess with Texas.

KELEMEN: It was also a chilly day today in Bahrain, but the president got a warm red carpet welcome there complete with the traditional dance by roadmen holding rifles and swords.

(Soundbite of music)

KELEMEN: When President Bush was given a sword, he held it over his head just as the dancers had done. President Bush said he is the first sitting U.S. president to visit here. And he told the king it's about time. Bahrain is a strategically located country and a host to the U.S. Naval Fifth Fleet, which the president plans to visit tomorrow.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Manama, Bahrain.

(Soundbite of music) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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