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US Presses Iraq to Accept Draft Forces Agreement


The United States on Wednesday pressed the Iraqi government to accept the draft agreement completed last week governing the future presence of U.S. troops in that country. Iraq's cabinet said Tuesday it wanted changes in the deal but U.S. officials say they have received no proposed amendments. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Bush administration officials are not concealing their frustration over the latest turn in the long running effort to complete the security agreement, and they are warning of serious consequences if an accord is not in place by year's end.

The United States and Iraq completed eight months of negotiations last week with an agreement setting a 2011 withdrawal date for U.S. forces and providing a formula to resolve jurisdictional issues for any crimes committed by American troops.

But on Tuesday, Iraq's cabinet said it would demand changes to the deal and had agreed on a list of needed amendments.

Briefing reporters here in Washington, State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood said no proposed changes have been officially conveyed to the United States.

He said the text as concluded last week is a good one that promotes Iraqi sovereignty and provides a legal basis for U.S. troops to operate there, and that it is time now for Iraq to make a decision on it.

"There is a text that was worked out by both sides' negotiators. This is a text that the Iraqi leadership has certainly been aware of and been following the progress of it. And we think the time to act on this is now, and we're running out of time. And that's why we said the door is closing. It's not completely shut, but it's closing because December 31 is coming up. And we need to have a legal basis in order for our forces to operate," he said.

The United Nations Security Council resolution that authorizes the presence of U.S. and other foreign troops in Iraq expires December 31.

Unless a bilateral forces agreement is in place or the Security Council extends the existing resolution, U.S. troops would have to cease all operations by the end of the year.

Speaking in Latvia, the Chairman of the U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, cautioned Iraqis to think hard before rejecting the agreement. He said Iraqi forces would not be able to counter insurgent and terrorist violence after year's end without U.S. help.

A senior U.S. diplomat who spoke to reporters at the State Department said the lack of an agreement would require American forces to stand down and cease, among other things, the protective details they have provided to top Iraqi officials.

The same official did not flatly rule out U.S. consideration of amendments to the draft. But he said the United States is not going to respond to news reports about what Iraq might want or, as he put it, "negotiate from the podium".

Spokesman Robert Wood declined to attribute opposition to the draft among Iraqi cabinet members to back-stage pressure from neighboring Iran, but he said Tehran has not played a positive role generally in Iraq.

However, at the Pentagon, Defense Department Spokesman Geoff Morrell said there is clearly an attempt by the Iranian government to undermine, undercut and derail the agreement.

Morrell said Tehran has made its displeasure with the agreement known, and that it has sought to influence Iraqis in "all manner of ways," including trying to orchestrate opposition rallies and apparent attempts to bribe Iraqi politicians.

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