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Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Rejects Withdrawal Deadline


Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, on a visit to Tokyo, says there is no need to set a deadline for the United States to withdraw its troops from Iraq. Meanwhile, Japan promised to keep funding the reconstruction of Iraq. Catherine Makino reports from Tokyo.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says he rejects the idea of a deadline for the United States to withdraw its troops from his country.

He told a press conference in Tokyo that his government was working quickly to improve security to make it possible for U.S. and other foreign troops to leave Iraq.

"There is no need for a timetable because we are working as fast as we can," he said. "What will govern the departure of troops will be victories achieved on the ground and not a timetable."

Mr. Maliki insisted it was Iraq's right to decide when the departure should take place.

"To demand the departure of the troops is a democratic right, a right that we respect, and is being practiced by organizations within Iraq and by the U.S Congress," Mr. Maliki says.

He noted that any handover of military responsibilities would occur according to the "process of the United Nations," and insisted the troops would leave eventually.

Mr. Maliki also thanked Japan, a supporter of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, for its efforts to rebuild the country.

After a meeting with Mr. Maliki on Monday, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan would continue to provide aid for Iraq's reconstruction.

Tokyo will also lend Iraq $850 million to increase oil production, by investing in electrical and oil infrastructure damaged by insurgent attacks.

Japan will extend by two years a "special measures law" to support Iraq reconstruction work. The current legislation ends in July.

Tokyo had sent about 600 non-combat soldiers to Iraq where they have worked on reconstruction projects in southern Iraq since 2004. But the Japanese deployment was unpopular at home and the ground troops were withdrawn.

Mr. Maliki, accompanied by five Cabinet members, also met Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Aso, Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma and economy minister Akira Amari. The Iraqis said they are hoping for investment in Iraq's electrical and petrochemical industries from private Japanese companies.

Earlier on Monday, Mr. Maliki met with Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.