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Rice says U.S., Iraq 'very, very close' to security deal

Rice says U.S., Iraq 'very, very close' to security deal

Washington and Baghdad are "very, very close" to an agreement on the future of U.S. forces in Iraq, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on a surprise visit to the war-torn country yesterday.
Rice cautioned however that the controversial deal had not yet been clinched as she arrived in the Iraqi capital for a series of meetings with senior Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
"We are very, very close to a SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) but it's not done," Rice told reporters travelling with her.
"Undoubtedly it's true that the negotiators have taken this very, very far towards an end-agreement but there is no reason to believe that there is an agreement," Rice said.
"There are still issues concerning exactly how our forces will operate. I think that is only natural at this point."
The Status of Forces Agreement would govern troop levels and would allow the U.S. military to operate after a U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.
It would also cover the issue of what immunity U.S. troops would have from Iraqi law.
Asked if the question of immunity was the main sticking point, Rice replied: "I am not going into the details now, where we are on in specific issues except to say, I think, all issues have moved forward in a positive way."
She did not, however, expect that the deal would be signed yesterday.
"We are continuing to work to make sure that any timeline, aspirational timelines, that are in the agreement really do reflect what we believe and ... what is reasonable," she said.
The senior U.S. diplomat was also expected yesterday to discuss the proposed agreement with senior U.S. officials and military commanders in Baghdad.
U.S. President George W. Bush and Maliki agreed in principle last November to sign a Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq by the end of July, but controversy has delayed the arrangement.
The proposed pact has drawn sharp criticism from Iraq's various political factions, especially from the deeply anti-American group of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Iraqi politicians have bristled at the idea of a continuing defense pact with the United States, but have also said they are on track to concluding an arrangement.
The original target date was July 31, but the White House said Wednesday that some details had still to be finalized.
Baghdad has expressed reservations about how many bases Washington should retain, what powers the U.S. military should continue to hold to detain Iraqi civilians, and what immunity U.S. troops should have.
The White House has so far refused to be locked into a fixed date for withdrawing U.S. combat troops, but has suggested a series of target dates for giving Iraqis control over security in different parts of the war-torn country.
With 142,500 American troops still in Iraq, the issue is politically sensitive in Washington as the November U.S. presidential election draws nearer.


Updated : 2021-03-07 08:09 GMT+08:00