From The Australian, November 29, 2006 ...
AIR FORCE ONE: The conflict in Iraq had entered a new phase, steeped in sectarian violence, the White House conceded yesterday as US President George W. Bush began a flurry of diplomacy before tonight's crucial summit with embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
From Air Force One, en route to Estonia and a NATO summit in Latvia, Mr Bush spoke yesterday with the leaders of France and Egypt about a wider Middle East peace settlement.
There is growing speculation that the US will seek to convene a regional conference on the future of Iraq, which would involve Saudi Arabia - visited by Vice-President Dick Cheney at the weekend - as well as key states such as Egypt and Jordan, where Mr Bush will meet Mr Maliki tonight.
US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said on board Air Force One: "We're clearly in a new phase, characterised by this increasing sectarian violence. That requires us, obviously, to adapt to that new phase." He did not go into detail.
....Mr Bush will head to Amman, Jordan, for talks overnight and tomorrow with Mr Maliki and King Abdullah of Jordan. Mr Hadley rejected suggestions that Iraq had already spiralled into a civil war and said it was unlikely Mr Bush would address with the Iraqi leader the issue of any US troop withdrawals. "We're not at the point where the President is going to be in a position to lay out a comprehensive plan," Mr Hadley said.
Mr Bush would seek to reassure his Iraqi counterpart that it was still the White House driving policy on Iraq's future. Asked if Syria and Iran would be involved in talks, as former secretary of state James Baker's commission on Iraq is expected to recommend, Mr Hadley suggested it was Iraq that should take the lead in any negotiations with its neighbours.
Mr Baker's Iraq Study Group began two days of intensive behind-closed-doors deliberations yesterday. Addressing the sectarian problem by engaging Iraq's neighbours, notably Iran and Syria, is an idea gaining favour within the 10-member, bipartisan group, which is in the final phase of its eight-month search for a new policy. But the panel was still deeply divided over recommendations going into its meeting.
The group, led by Mr Baker and former Democrat congressman Lee Hamilton, hopes to issue its recommendations before Congress adjourns next month....