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US Envoy Denies Secret Agenda in Iraq Negotiations


U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said Thursday the Bush administration has no secret agenda in negotiations with Iraq on the future status of U.S. forces there. He said the United States does not seek permanent bases or long-term control of Iraqi airspace. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Crocker, in Washington for consultations, says the Bush administration would like to conclude the wide-ranging accord on future U.S. relations with Iraq by July.

But he rejects suggestions the proposed deal would tie the hands of a future U.S. administration, or that the United States has a secret agenda for permanent Iraqi bases.

The veteran diplomat briefed State Department reporters, who asked about a report in the British newspaper The Independent, that said Washington is seeking a "secret deal" with Iraqi authorities that would extend U.S. military occupation indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the November U.S. election.

Crocker dismissed the notion of a secret component to the accord under negotiation, saying the process will be transparent and the deal subject to full debate by Iraqi legislators.

"It's a negotiation in progress, so I can't tell you what it is going to like at the end," he said. "But I can tell you that we are not seeking permanent military bases in Iraq. That is just flatly untrue. Nor are we seeking to control Iraqi airspace. That is another kind of enduring myth. Iraq is working hard at developing its air traffic control capacities, and, as it does, we're handing over increasing responsibility to them."

Crocker said the impetus to complete the deal this year, before the current U.N. mandate for foreign forces in Iraq expires, comes from the Iraqi side.

He said an American military presence in Iraq will clearly be needed beyond this year, but that the status-of-forces agreement will have review provisions so that it could be altered by either side in the future.

The ambassador said improved security conditions in Iraq in recent months stem from what he termed a "virtuous circle" of growing competence by Iraqi security forces and public revulsion against al-Qaida in Iraq and other foreign-backed militants.

He spoke of a substantial backlash also against Iran's support of radical Shiite militias, and said Tehran would be well-advised to reconsider its behavior toward its neighbor:

"One would hope that that will lead to a rethinking in Iran as to what its long-term policy toward Iraq should be - to support a democratically-elected central government, or to support militias that are aligned against that government," he said. "I don't think Iran can really have it both ways. It's not a U.S. position, it's what Iraqis themselves are saying."

Crocker said the Thursday announcement by the United Arab Emirates that it intends to name an ambassador and open an embassy in Baghdad reflects an appreciation by Arab states that "things are different in Iraq," in both political and security terms.

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