The Bush administration is working on two agreements on future ties with Iraq -- one relating to U.S. military forces there and another setting out the framework for diplomatic relations with Baghdad, a senior U.S. official told Congress on Tuesday.
Until now, the administration had spoken of one agreement to be reached with Baghdad before President George W. Bush leaves the White House next January.
The plan for any document on future ties has stirred considerable concern among lawmakers and presidential candidates over whether it would lock in a long-term U.S. military presence. Critics say the administration should seek congressional approval for security agreements with Iraq.
David Satterfield, the State Department's coordinator for Iraq, told Congress the administration planned a "status of forces" agreement with Iraq similar to those it had with many countries, providing the legal basis for U.S. troop presence.
It also planned a "strategic framework" document on U.S.-Iraqi relations.
"In addition to a status of forces agreement, we intend to establish a framework for a strong relationship with Iraq, reflecting our shared political, economic, cultural and security interests," he told a joint hearing of two House Foreign Affairs subcommittees.
"This strategic framework will broadly address the topics outlined in the Declaration of Principles signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki on November 26, 2007," he said.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker will serve as the lead negotiator and strategist in Baghdad on the documents and formal negotiations with Iraq would start this month, he said.
Bush and Maliki agreed in November to start formal negotiations on future ties along the lines of a "Declaration of Principles."
Satterfield did not offer much detail on Tuesday about the proposed strategic framework for relations with Iraq, although he said the administration did not see it as a "legally binding" document.
But one congressional critic, Rep. William Delahunt of Massachusetts, said he thought such a framework would require congressional approval.
Delahunt also said the planned status of forces agreement would contain an "authority to fight" that is not in most such deals, which tend to focus on things like criminal and tax liability of U.S. soldiers stationed abroad.
"They are attempting, obviously, to circumvent Congress. The authority to use American military forces overseas is a shared power," Delahunt told Reuters.
The United States currently has 158,000 troops in Iraq. It operates there under a U.N. authorization that expires at the end of 2008.
Delahunt said he plans legislation advocating extension of the U.N. mandate for a "short time" so the next U.S. administration can work out a relationship with Iraq "and avoid this constitutional conflict."
Last Mod: 05 Mart 2008, 13:12