President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spoke by telephone Friday amid new signs that their governments are close to final agreement on a deal regarding the U.S. troop presence in Iraq after the end of this year. The accord reportedly would end the American combat force presence in Iraq during the next three years. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
Bush administration officials say the agreement, the object of months of painstaking negotiations, is not yet final. But they say only "a couple of" issues remain to be settled by the top leadership of the two governments.
The security package will stipulate the terms of the future presence of U.S. troops in Iraq once the present United Nations mandate for international forces expires at the end of December.
Officials of both sides say the negotiations, which were considered stalemated earlier this year, achieved a breakthrough late last week, and were further advanced by a Baghdad visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday.
Officials here decline to give details, but they do not contest Iraqi reports that the deal provides for U.S. combat forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities by the middle of next year and to leave Iraq entirely by the end of 2011.
Briefing reporters in Texas, White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki had a good conversation on the status of the talks Friday, and that efforts to conclude the accord are ongoing.
"Our team and the Iraqi team are continuing discussions now. I think it's fair to say, and I think everyone understands this, that when negotiations are hopefully coming to an end, when you can see the end in sight, there are a lot of details that have to be worked out and we're in the process of working out details, right now," he said.
It is understood that the outstanding issues include how the expectations for U.S. troop pullbacks will be framed in the agreement and whether U.S. troops will be subject to Iraqi law, if they are accused of committing crimes.
The Bush administration has resisted fixed withdrawal timetables, arguing for flexibility in case security conditions deteriorate.
The White House says both sides agreed in July on what spokesman Gordon Johndroe called "aspirational time horizons," or goals for Iraqi troops to assume increasing security responsibility throughout the country, thus allowing U.S. forces to return home.
To go into effect, the envisaged deal -- consisting of a joint security accord and a status-of-forces agreement -- would need to be approved by Iraq's five-member executive council and its parliament.
The Bush administration maintains that the package would not amount to a treaty, and thus does not require U.S. Senate approval. But on Friday, a State Department spokesman acknowledged heavy Congressional interest and said there will be detailed consultations.