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US Gives Iraq Final Text of Draft Forces Agreement


The Bush administration says it has sent Iraq what it says is the final text of an agreement on a continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the end of the year. U.S. officials say they accepted some Iraqi-proposed amendments, but that as far as the United States is concerned the negotiating process has ended. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say the final text was conveyed in a letter from President Bush to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and that while the U.S. side may provide further clarifications it considers the negotiations over.

The two sides have struggled for weeks to reach agreement on a status-of-forces agreement that will govern the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq beyond December 31, when the U.N. Security Council mandate for foreign forces in Iraq expires.

The draft accord would allow U.S. forces to remain in Iraq for as long as another three years. The parties have struggled to agree on details such as legal jurisdiction over American soldiers who might commit off-duty crimes.

A senior U.S. diplomat said Iraq late last month proposed scores of amendments to a tentative draft. He said the text the United States has sent back to Baghdad accepts many of the proposed changes, but rejects a number of others.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood said the Bush administration now considers the process, on the U.S. side, concluded, and that it is now up to the Baghdad government to finalize the accord through appropriate political channels.

"The government of Iraq has debated this agreement thoroughly," he said. "They forwarded to us their suggested amendments. We got back to them. And now the negotiating process has come to an end. So they will now move it through their internal process as I said."

Asked if Iraq has been given the U.S. draft on a take it or leave it basis, Wood said he was not in the business of giving ultimatums, but reiterated the process on the U.S. side has concluded.

The senior official who spoke here said the U.S. side believes it has addressed a number of Iraqi concerns about the earlier draft in good faith and in a way that respects the sovereignty of both sides.

He said he expects the new U.S. text to be acted on by Iraq's Council of Representatives, its main legislative body, with input from whatever other players in the political process that Iraqi leaders deem necessary.

The looming expiration of the U.N. troop mandate leaves little time for any further negotiations. The Security Council could extend the mandate, but both U.S. and Iraqi officials consider a bilateral accord far preferable.

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