Iraq's prime minister is considering alternatives to a long term security deal that would define U.S. troops' presence in Iraq beyond 2008. VOA's Suzanne Presto reports from the northern city of Irbil.
The Iraqi government and the United States have been negotiating an agreement to keep U.S. troops in the country after their United Nations mandate expires at the end of this year.
But the negotiations have been contentious. In mid-June, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the talks had stalled due to concerns about compromising Iraqi sovereignty.
One week later, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a member of Iraq's negotiating team, said it would be possible to reach a security deal by the end of this month.
The Iraqi government now says it is looking at alternatives to a long-term security deal.
While visiting the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Maliki told Arab ambassadors his government is considering a Memorandum of Understanding, known as an M.O.U. He said this could include a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq.
Iraqi Government Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh emphasized that pursuing a Memorandum of Understanding is simply a proposed idea. He told VOA that nothing has been done on this subject and no M.O.U. has been drafted.
President Bush has repeatedly said he opposes setting a timetable to remove U.S. troops from Iraq.
A U.S. Department of Defense spokesman, Bryan Whitman, reiterated that point. He said decisions about troop levels should be determined by the security situation in Iraq. He also said the United States has no desire to have its forces permanently stationed in the country.
"Timelines tend to be artificial in nature and in a situation where things are as dynamic as they are in Iraq, I would just tell you that it is usually best to look at these things based on the conditions on the ground," said Bryan Whitman.
Whitman said U.S. and Iraqi officials remain hard at work to strike a deal to keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond 2008.
"We are working diligently with the Iraqi government to ensure that when the U.N. mandate expires that there are the appropriate provisions for our forces to be able to operate," he said.
Whitman added he saw little value in trying to give progress reports about the status of negotiations, saying it was best to wait until the agreement is finalized.
U.S. officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, say any security agreement reached will fully respect Iraqi sovereignty.