U.S. lawmakers are calling on the Bush administration to submit any deal on future U.S. troop operations in Iraq to Congress for approval. It has become an issue in the presidential race, with Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama expressing concern that such a pact could limit the options of the next commander in chief. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
The Bush administration is preparing to negotiate a plan with Iraqis that would provide authorizations and protections for U.S. troops to continue operations in Iraq after the U.N. Security Council Resolution that authorizes the U.S. military presence expires December 31.
David Satterfield, the State Department's coordinator for Iraq, testified about the proposal before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday.
"The Status of Forces Agreement will set the basic parameters for the U.S. military presence in Iraq, including the appropriate and necessary consent from the government of Iraq, and protections necessary for our troops to operate effectively," said David Satterfield.
But key Democrats, including presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, are concerned that such an agreement could limit the options of the next commander in chief. They are demanding that any deal be sent to the Senate for approval.
In response to a question from Clinton at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this week, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said the Iraqi parliament would likely consider a deal on the status of future U.S. troop operations. That sparked this response from Senator Clinton:
"It seems odd to Americans who are being asked to commit for an indefinite period of time the lives of our young men and women, the civilian employees who you rightly referenced and thanked, as well as billions of dollars of additional taxpayer dollars, that if the Iraqi parliament may have a chance to consider this agreement, that the United States Congress would not," said Hillary Clinton.
Administration officials say the pact would not be negotiated as a treaty, which requires Senate ratification, but rather as an executive agreement, which requires only a presidential signature.
Iraq coordinator Satterfield sought to assure lawmakers that the administration would consult with Congress throughout the process. He said the agreement would not tie the hands of the next president:
"As for the size of the U.S. presence in Iraq, the nature of our operations in Iraq, the Status of Forces Agreement and the strategic framework will do nothing to commit or limit the discretion of this president or the next president to make those important decisions," he said.
But Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joe Biden remained concerned, noting that Clinton and her Democratic presidential rival Barack Obama differ on Iraq strategy with President Bush and expected Republican nominee John McCain.
"You speak on behalf of this administration, whose views are not shared by two of the three potential next presidents," said Joe Biden. "And we are about to codify, we are about to lay out for the whole world to see, this president's vision of our rationale to be in Iraq."
Senators Clinton and Obama have vowed that if elected, they would begin withdrawing troops from Iraq soon after taking office.
Senator George Voinovich, an Ohio Republican, warned Satterfield that the level of congressional concern could jeopardize the pact.
"From my perspective and from what I am picking up from my colleagues, it is not going to happen, and it is going to turn into a big political thing between now and the election, and I think in the long run could even hurt the situation rather than help the situation," said George Voinovich. "I'm saying, 'look at reality.'"
Voinovich suggested the administration ask the United Nations to extend its mandate authorizing the U.S.-led military mission for several more months, after a new U.S. president is seated.
Besides the Status of Forces Agreement, the administration also plans to negotiate a strategic framework with Iraq that would establish long-term political, economic and security ties.