President George W. Bush met Iraqi Shi'ite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim at the White House on Tuesday and discussed the importance of starting formal negotiations about a long-term relationship between the two countries, the White House said.
Bush met Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, in the Oval Office after returning from the Annapolis conference on Middle East peace.
Hakim's party has close ties with Iran, which the United States accuses of funding, training and arming Shi'ite militias blamed for sectarian bloodshed in Iraq.
Iran denies the charges and blames the violence in Iraq on the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the leaders discussed the improving security situation in Iraq and the importance of the agreement reached by Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to start formal talks next year about the long-term relationship between Iraq and the United States.
They also talked about "the tribal awakening" -- the coming together and meeting of Sunni and Shi'ite groups from areas that have seen some of the worst sectarian violence in the past, Perino said.
And they discussed "the importance of the need for support from Iraq's neighbours as Iraq moves forward," she said. ( Reuters )