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US, Iraq Agreement Hits Snag, but Talks to Proceed


Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Friday initial efforts to reach agreement with the United States on the future of the U.S. troop presence have reached "a dead end," and negotiators are working on new approaches. VOA's Al Pessin reports on the issue from the Pentagon....

Prime Minister Maliki got a lot of attention when he made his "dead end" comment Friday during a visit to Jordan.

The prime minister said there were several points of conflict between initial drafts drawn up by U.S. and Iraqi negotiators, so they put those drafts aside and are submitting new ideas. He said any agreement will have to "assert the sovereignty of Iraq."

According to Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman, that is not a problem.

"The first [principle] is full respect for Iraqi sovereignty. There isn't going to be any sort of an agreement that infringes upon Iraq's sovereignty. The second principle is that the agreements must be fully transparent. There won't be any secret deals. The agreements that we have with Iraq will be public agreements," said Whitman.

The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has made the same point, as have other U.S. officials.

Analyst Colin Kahl at the Center for a New American Security says the Iraqi objections generally fall into two categories.

"Part of it is creating a veneer of objection to, kind of, defend the Maliki government against nationalist opponents who criticize the agreement. But part of it is genuine. I mean I do think that the Iraqis were shocked by American elements, at least what we know, [that were] in the draft agreement," said Kahl.

Kahl says those provisions include U.S. military operations without Iraqi permission, total control of Iraqi airspace, permission for U.S. operations across Iraq's borders into other countries, the continued detention of thousands of Iraqis and legal immunity not only for U.S. troops but for their contractors as well. Kahl says some of those issues can be solved through an agreement that requires consultation, coordination and even approval by Iraq, but that in practice gives U.S. forces the freedom of action they need in the current situation. He says some Iraqi leaders even want broad security guarantees that the United States is not willing to provide.

The analyst says U.S. and Iraqi leaders agree on the need to stabilize Iraq and to counter Iranian influence. He says key Iraqi leaders want to get as much as they can in any agreement, but do want the negotiations to succeed eventually.

"One fundamental thing has not changed. The people closest to Nouri al-Maliki still want an agreement. They want a long term relationship with the United States because certainly there must be some officials who think, 'Hey, now that we've done a great job in Basra, Sadr City and elsewhere, now we can do this all by ourselves.' But it just strikes me that it wouldn't take too much convincing to show them that that's not actually right," he added.

Speaking at the United Nations in New York Friday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iraq is serious about asserting its sovereignty, but he also appeared to confirm Colin Kahl's analysis on both the negotiating tactics and the Iraqi desire to reach an agreement.

"The government is committed, really, to conclude this negotiation, to reach a final text. Still we are not there. There are difficulties. I mean, let's not belittle this. There is bound to be statement, counter-statement, positions and so on. This might be part of the negotiating tactic also," said Zebari.

Minister Zebari, who is a member of the Iraqi negotiating team, said the United States had already presented some alternate proposals before he left Baghdad on this trip.

There are actually two accords being negotiated - a Strategic Framework Agreement to outline the long term U.S.-Iraqi security relationship, and a Status of Forces Agreement to establish the legal status of U.S. troops in Iraq. The United States has about 80 Status of Forces Agreements with countries around the world.

Earlier, in Brussels, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated he also sees the current impasse as possibly temporary.

"I will have to, when I get home, find out what the status of the negotiations is and whether there's a difference between what's actually going on in the negotiations and the public posture," said Gates.

The negotiators' goal is to develop bi-lateral agreements to replace the United Nations mandate for foreign troops in Iraq, which expires at the end of the year. But Colin Kahn says that is not absolutely necessary. He says if there is no agreement in the next couple of months, the Iraqi government may decide to wait for a new administration to take power in the United States in January, and to seek a temporary renewal of the U.N. resolution in the meantime.

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