Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday refused to rule out U.S. troops still being in Iraq in 10 years or the possibility that the United States could use military force against neighboring Syria and Iran.
Rice deferred to the decisions of President George W. Bush and military commanders as Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee pressed her for more specifics on the U.S. strategy in Iraq. At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan also would not rule out the possibility of a U.S. troop presence that far in the future.
Lawmakers also pressed her on strategy for dealing with Iran and Syria. U.S. officials have accused Syria of allowing foreign fighters to flow across its borders into Iraq and Iran of supporting the insurgency.
Testifying before the committee for the first time since February, Rice sought to reassure jittery members of Congress that the Bush administration had a plan for success: helping Iraqis clear out insurgents and build durable, national institutions.
She told lawmakers the United States will follow a model that was successful in Afghanistan. Starting next month, she said, joint diplomatic-military groups _ Provincial Reconstruction Teams _ will work alongside Iraqis as they train police, set up courts, and help local governments establish essential services.
But even as Rice tried to crystalize the plan, Republicans and Democrats asked her pointed questions they say Americans need to know. Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel and Lincoln Chafee were among several lawmakers who asked Rice whether the Bush administration was considering military action against Iran and Syria, and asked whether the president would circumvent congressional authorization if the White House chose that option.
By State Department design, Rice testified before the committee just days after Iraq apparently approved its first constitution since a U.S.-led coalition ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. Her appearance also coincided with the start of Saddam's trial in Baghdad for a massacre of 150 of his fellow Iraqis, the AP reported.