The United States and Iraq say they are committed to negotiating a framework for U.S. forces to remain in that country after the end of this year, when the U.N. mandate authorizing their presence expires. Iraq has said it does not want to see that mandate renewed, and the U.S. says it is committed to working out an alternative framework. VOA's Margaret Besheer has more from United Nations headquarters in New York, where Iraq's foreign minister addressed the Security Council on Friday.
Hoshyar Zebari told the 15-member Security Council that his country has made significant accomplishments on security, political and economic fronts. He noted that Iraqi Security Forces now number nearly 560,000 and are responsible for more than half the country's 18 provinces. But he conceded that tangible gains are fragile and his government's priority is to consolidate and capitalize on what has been achieved.
"Security continues to be the leading concern and foremost responsibility of the Iraqi Government, as well as the principal pre-requisite of progress in the fields of reconstruction and social-economic development," he said.
He said Baghdad welcomes the continued support of the Multi-National Forces under the U.N. mandate, but that Iraq is currently negotiating bilateral agreements with the United States to assist with its security once this mandate expires at the end of December.
Speaking in Jordan, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said negotiations on those agreements - known as the Strategic Framework Agreement and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) - have reached an impasse, but were continuing.
Foreign Minister Zebari told reporters that his government is committed to concluding an agreement, but said negotiations are difficult, because there are some serious issues on the table and Iraq is determined to protect its national interests.
"These are some of the difficult issues we are facing in our negotiation on the SOFA and the Strategic Framework Agreement - on immunities, on sovereignty issues, on sites, locations and so on," he added. "But I think recently during my recent encounter, the American side did agree to remove the special security contractors from the immunization or protection. But these talks are on-going."
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and former envoy to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the U.S. supports Iraq's desire to end the mandate this year.
"We are committed to working with them to find an alternative framework - which is as you know is the Strategic Framework and a SOFA - to deal with the problem of the presence of the U.S. forces, to assist the Iraqis as they deem necessary," he explained.
In comments to the council, Khalilzad welcomed the decrease in violence, saying attacks have fallen to their lowest levels in over four years and violent civilian deaths are down 75 percent since last July. But he said the Iraqi government must strengthen the implementation of other political, social and economic measures to ensure these gains are sustained.