January 21, 2007 / 12:32 PM / 13 years ago

Rice says U.S. must give Maliki "breathing space"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday the Bush administration would give Iraq’s government some “breathing space” after the president’s “tough” words in his Iraq speech.

In comments picked up on an open microphone between morning television interviews, Rice indicated she did not want to put too much pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, with whom the Bush administration has become increasingly irritated.

“I don’t want to descend on the Maliki government and look like we, you know, just sort of beat their brains out,” said Rice in comments monitored by Reuters from a television feed.

“The president was pretty tough last night and we’ll be pretty tough today. Give them a little time to now do something, a little breathing space,” she added.

Rice leaves for the Middle East and Europe on Friday, with stops in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Signaling growing impatience, President George W. Bush used blunt language in his prime time speech on Wednesday to warn Maliki that “America’s commitment is not open-ended” to Iraq.

In his bid to rally support for the unpopular war, Bush also told Americans that 21,500 extra troops were needed to help “break the cycle of violence” in Iraq and hasten an eventual withdrawal.

Bush set no time limit for the new deployment and offered no hint of a timetable for when troops might begin to withdraw.

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