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Iraq's Maliki Hits High Notes, Avoids Low Ones

LUKE BURBANK: I'm Luke Burbank on Capitol Hill, where for some lawmakers it was actually what Prime Minister Maliki didn't say today that was upsetting.

JAN SCHAKOWSKY: What I was listening for and didn't hear, too, he was condemning terror but didn't say a word about Hezbollah.

BURBANK: Jan Schakowsky is a representative from Illinois. Yesterday she was one of 20 Democrats who signed a letter urging House Speaker Dennis Hastert to cancel Maliki's appearance because he called Israel an aggressor in the conflict with Hezbollah. Schakowsky was miffed enough to skip Maliki's big speech.

SCHAKOWSKY: I wouldn't call it a boycott, but I decided that I really was not interested in standing and clapping for what I thought were delusional pictures of what was happening in Iraq and, well, it was a lot of happy talk, you know. We heard about all the things, I think, that we'd all like Iraq to be and not what Iraq is.

BURBANK: Several members of Congress met privately with the Prime Minister before his speech this morning. One of them was Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat.

RICHARD DURBIN: I asked him directly if he believes that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and he would not respond. And he questioned whether I had the right to ask him that. And I said, when you raised criticism of Israel in this conflict, I think it's logical, it's reasonable, to ask you what is your impression of their enemy in this struggle, Hezbollah?

BURBANK: Most members of both the House and Senate, though, did attend the speech, most of them listening and standing and even clapping. Among them was John Warner, Republican Senator from Virginia. He called the Prime Minister brave for even making the trip since some in Iraq had urged him not to come.

JOHN WARNER: And he steadfastly said no, I want to go over. I want to look the Americans in the eye and particularly those in uniform and tell them thank you.

BURBANK: Thank you was a big part of Maliki's message today, a message of idealism that supporters of the war effort in Iraq took as a good sign. Again, Senator Warner.

WARNER: I believe that this trip will be recorded in the minds of the American people as a successful trip.

NANCY PELOSI: I congratulate the Prime Minister for his courage and the determination that he has to make life better for the people of Iraq.

BURBANK: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also attended the speech and clapped politely at certain junctures.

PELOSI: Sadly, I think that his speech today did not face the reality of life in Iraq.

BURBANK: Pelosi's issue is not so much Maliki's statements about Israel, but that he was even addressing Congress at all. She accused the Bush administration of using these joint session speeches as public relations events.

Luke Burbank, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Luke Burbank
Luke Burbank is kind of amazed that NPR is letting him co-host its new morning show, The Bryant Park Project, NPR's new morning news show launched on October 1, 2007.