Baker Looks to Change Course on Iraq


Former Secretary of State James A. Baker told "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" in an exclusive appearance that the current Iraqi government is capable of sustaining peace in the war-torn region.

But he warned, "If they think we're going to leave, then they won't be able to do it."

Baker is leading the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group charged with making a "forward-looking assessment of the situation in Iraq."

He said, "[Iraq is] capable of doing it if it gets the political will."

The Iraq Study Group is expected to make its formal assessment after the midterm elections this November. Baker told ABC News that the report may be ready by December, but that deadline could slip into next year.

Most important, Baker stated, the report must "take this thing out of politics."

"We're going to try very hard to stay away from the political terms, change the course, stay the course, and all that stuff," Baker said.

With the president's blessing, Baker is acting with Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman and the vice chair of the 9/11 Commission, and others. Baker described their efforts.

"I think the administration knows that we are working hard to come up with a consensus recommendation," he said. "We've got a lot of good Republicans and Democrats on this commission, and we are determined to come up with a consensus report."

But Baker admitted he's "not sure" that the Bush administration will heed any advice given by the independent group.

This past week, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, issued a stark assessment of the situation in Iraq.

He told reporters, "In two or three months, if this thing hasn't come to fruition and if this level of violence is not under control and this government able to function, I think it's a responsibility of our government internally to determine: Is there a change of course that we should take? And I wouldn't take off the table any option at this time."

Baker said he concurs with Warner.

"We're taking a look at other alternatives," he said, "We haven't rejected a lot of ideas."

On the separate but pressing issue of North Korea's latest threats of another nuclear missile test, Baker disagreed with the Bush administration's refusal to engage directly in bilateral talks with the rogue nation.

"I believe in talking to your enemies," Baker said. "In my view, it's not appeasement to talk to your enemies."

George Stephanopoulos' entire interview with former Secretary of State James Baker can be viewed at "This Week's" Web page at

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