18/04/2007 19:30 - (SA)
Washington - Democrats softened their demands on Wednesday on the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq ahead of talks with US President George W Bush on funding for the four-year-old war.
Leaders of the new Democratic majority said before a scheduled meeting with Bush they preferred to negotiate an exit strategy rather than try to impose a withdrawal timetable fiercely opposed by the White House.
Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the house of representatives, said Democrats were determined to reach out and say: "Mr. President, we must work together. We must negotiate an approach that will wind down this war."
Pelosi and senate majority leader Harry Reid conspicuously avoided a demand for the pullout of US troops starting next year that was contained in a funding bill Bush has sworn to veto.
Pelosi said: "It's not a question of 'back down'. It's a question of negotiate a winding down of this war.
"It's necessary that we do that because the course of action we are in is a war without end."
There are 145 000 US troops in Iraq, and the number should rise to 160 000 by June under a "surge" ordered by Bush to try to restore order in Baghdad.
Locked in a weeks-long standoff over a $120bn emergency funding package for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush and the Democratic leaders were to meet behind closed doors at the White House.