The U.S. Defense Department has denied a report that senior U.S. military officers in Iraq have been negotiating with some insurgency leaders about laying down their arms.

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita says the U.S. military is not involved in any such talks.

"Negotiations are not for the United States to conduct, and to my knowledge we're not conducting negotiations," he said.

Mr. DiRita told a news conference he believes some insurgents may be rethinking their positions as Iraq moves to form its first democratically elected government.  But he said any contact with insurgency leaders would have to be managed by that government, and he is not aware of any such contacts involving U.S. forces.

"There isn't any kind of independent activity going on either by the military, or to my knowledge by the embassy.  It's being done in close coordination.  Any of these kinds of discussions are ultimately discussions that are going to have to be decided on by Iraqis," he added.

In this week's edition, Time magazine reports on a meeting in Baghdad between a senior insurgency leader and U.S. military officers.  The magazine describes the Iraqi as a former member of the Saddam Hussein regime, and says he claimed to represent other former regime officials who form a significant part of the Iraqi insurgency.  The report says no agreement was reached in the meeting, but it quotes the former Iraqi official as telling the Americans, "We are ready to work with you."

U.S. officials say Iraq's insurgency is made up of former regime elements, Islamic extremists, and foreign fighters affiliated with the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Mr. DiRita, the Pentagon spokesman, said Iraq's new leaders might use their own contacts to reach out to some elements in the insurgency, but he said the only possible U.S. role would be to facilitate establishing contacts and meetings, if necessary.

On a related issue at the same briefing, U.S. Army Brigadier General David Rodriguez, who will soon take command of coalition forces in northwestern Iraq, said about 17,000 U.S. troops are set to leave the country in the next few weeks.  The troops were kept in Iraq, even though their replacements had arrived, to help secure Iraq's elections last month.  The general says the departures will bring the U.S. troop level to 138,000, about the same as before the election.

U.S. officials will not put any timetable on a substantial U.S. troop withdrawal, saying that will depend on the overall security situation in Iraq, including the strength of the insurgency and the development of the new Iraqi government and security forces.  General Rodriguez reported Tuesday that an additional 4000 Iraqi troops and police officers have completed their training, bringing the strength of the new Iraqi forces to 140,000.