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Pentagon Says US Will Not Launch Attacks from Iraq

The Pentagon says U.S. forces in Iraq will not be used to launch attacks on any of the country's neighbors. The comment was made as U.S. and Iraqi negotiators work on an agreement to cover the future U.S. troop presence in Iraq, and as Iraq's prime minister visits Iran. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Spokesman Bryan Whitman says the United States wants an agreement that would allow its forces to stay in Iraq temporarily, and would protect the troops like agreements with other countries do. And he went one step further to try to reassure Iran and other Iraq neighbors.

"U.S. forces in Iraq will not be used for offensive operations against any of Iraq's neighbors," he said. "But with respect to issues like immunity and jurisdiction, where there are U.S. forces around the world, we negotiate arrangements for their protections. And we are doing the same with the Iraqi government."

Whitman's statement came as Iranian officials are urging Iraq's prime minister to end the U.S. troop presence in his country. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is on a visit to Tehran, where Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told him Iraq's biggest problem is the presence of U.S. troops.

Iran supports Iraq's biggest Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, which has sometimes fought U.S. forces. It is now in a ceasefire, but some Mahdi groups are still fighting. The United States says Iran's elite Quds Force provides high-powered high-technology weapons to the Iraqi Shiite militiamen.

But Whitman says the United States does not want to establish permanent bases in Iraq, and is pursuing the current negotiations based on three principles.

"The first [principle] is full respect for Iraqi sovereignty," he said. "There is not 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 will not be any secret deals. The agreements that we have with Iraq will be public agreements."

Whitman says the third principle is that the expected agreement will be subject to approval by Iraq's parliament, as required by Iraqi law.

The agreement is designed to replace the U.N. authorization for foreign troops in Iraq, which expires at the end of the year. Negotiators have set the end of July as their goal for finishing their work, so there is time for the necessary approvals. Whitman says people involved in the talks "remain positive" about reaching that goal.

The United States has about 150,000 troops in Iraq, and is expected to reduce that number by 10,000 by the end of next month, with further reductions possible later in the year.