March 8, 2008 in Nation/World

U.S., Iraq discuss long-term relations

Robert Burns Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The United States and Iraq are opening negotiations in Baghdad on a blueprint for a long-term relationship, plus a narrower deal to define the legal basis for a U.S. troop presence, a Pentagon official said Friday.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the talks are scheduled to start today.

Leading the U.S. negotiating team will be U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who will be assisted by senior officialsfrom the Pentagon, State Department and White House National Security Council.

Morrell said the U.S. goal is to complete a deal by December, when the U.N. Security Council resolution that governs the U.S. and coalition presence in Iraq will expire.

The process has triggered criticism from some in Congress, in part because the administration’s position is that a long-term deal will not require congressional approval and in part out of concern that it might commit to specific troop levels.

Morrell would not discuss specifics of the U.S. position.

“Like in any negotiation, the to-ing and fro-ing that inevitably will go on will go on behind closed doors,” he said.

Morrell said the deal sought by the administration “does not seek permanent bases; will not in any way codify the number of troops that will remain in Iraq; it will not tie the hands of a future commander in chief; it will not require Senate ratification, but we will make every effort to keep Congress apprised of progress in these talks.”

The intent is to simultaneously negotiate parallel agreements. One, known as a strategic framework agreement, would spell out the basis for a long-term U.S.-Iraqi relationship in the political, economic and security fields. Both sides see it as the basis for establishing a normal state-to-state relationship, enabling Iraq to function with full sovereignty.

The other would be what is known as a status of forces agreement, a standard arrangement that spells out the legal basis for the presence of U.S. troops on Iraqi soil and establishes the legal rights and obligations of the troops. The U.S. government has similar agreements with dozens of other countries.

What makes the case more complex is the U.S. interest in continuing to pursue terrorist threats in Iraq. Crocker addressed the issue Feb. 1.

“I don’t think al-Qaida is going to have gone away after this year, and we and the Iraqis are going to want to make sure we are able to pursue them, but questions of force levels and whatnot, those will be executive decisions by this president and by the next,” Crocker said. “This agreement is in no way going to get into that executive decision prerogative.”

The United States has 159,000 troops in Iraq and is expected to have more than 100,000 by the time a new president enters the White House next January.

David Satterfield, senior Iraq adviser at the State Department, told Congress this week the status of forces agreement is intended to provide “all necessary legal authorities and protections for our troops to continue to operate in Iraq.” He said the two countries also will establish a separate strategic framework that will reflect “our shared political, economic, cultural and security goals and interests.”

“Together, they seek an accord that both affirms Iraqi sovereignty and will permit the continued assistance of U.S. and coalition forces in that nation’s progress towards full security and peace,” he said.

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