Talks on future US-Iraq relations begin in Baghdad

U.S. and Iraqi officials began talks on Tuesday on agreements to govern future relations between the two countries and the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, the U.S. embassy and Iraqi Foreign Ministry said.

Talks on future US-Iraq relations begin in Baghdad
Neither Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki nor U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker attended the meeting at the Foreign Ministry inside the heavily fortified "Green Zone" government and diplomatic compound in central Baghdad.

"We've been having talks today between two negotiating teams," U.S. embassy spokesman Phil Reeker said.

Reeker did not say when Maliki and Crocker might begin formal talks on the pact.

The talks will focus on security and future U.S. military, diplomatic and political relations between Baghdad and Washington, as well as economic and cultural ties.

Iraq's Foreign Ministry said in a statement the talks would aim to "find a basis for long-term friendly relations between both countries, including a temporary agreement for the presence of American forces in Iraq".

"The talks will be based on the mutual interests and respectful exchanges between the two countries," the statement said.

The substance of the pact has become a politically charged issue in Washington, with members of Congress protesting against the administration's intention to negotiate the future relationship with Baghdad and saying they should be consulted.

Democrats say the agreement on U.S. forces could lock the United States into a long-term military presence in Iraq.

The talks were to have begun last month. U.S. and Iraqi officials in Baghdad said they hope to reach an agreement by July, well before the next U.S. president is elected on Nov. 4.

"These negotiations will continue until they are finalised in the summer of this year," the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said.

U.S. forces "operate" in Iraq under a United Nations mandate that expires at the end of 2008. Iraq does not want that mandate extended, so the two governments must agree guidelines to allow U.S. forces to remain beyond the end of this year.

Reuters
Last Mod: 12 Mart 2008, 11:57
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