Rice meets with Iraq's Maliki on U.S. troop agreement

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 21, 2008 

BAGHDAD — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Thursday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki in an effort to bring to a close long and contentious negotiations with Iraq over a security agreement that would govern the presence of U.S. forces here after the end of this year.

Rice said she hoped meeting personally with Maliki would help determine what still needs to be negotiated to bring the talks to a close.

"Part of what I’d like to do is talk to the prime minister and see what still remains to be done, what still needs to be closed," Rice said before meeting with Maliki at his home in the fortified Green Zone here. "Nothing will be signed today."

American and Iraqi negotiators have been saying for weeks that they are close to an agreement, but that Maliki has held up the process over his concern that the agreement doesn't give Iraq enough authority over U.S. troop conduct.

The agreement foresees U.S. combat troops leaving Iraq by 2011, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has said. Other Iraqi officials have told McClatchy that the agreement also calls for U.S. forces to pull out of Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009.

One senior Iraqi official said Maliki has been the primary obstacle to completing the agreement. Every time negotiators seem close to conlucding the talks, Maliki raises a new issue, the official said.

Rice also seemed to put the burden of responsibility on the Shiite Muslim prime minister.

"I think it's a chance for me to sit with the prime minister and really get a sense of what, if there is anything else, that we need to do from Washington to get to closure on the agreement,” Rice said to reporters traveling with her in Baghdad on Thursday.

"The negotiators have made really really good progress. They are satisfied with where they are," she said. "But obviously it is going to be the prime minister’s call so this is a chance for me to sit there with him."

Rice arrived in Baghdad fresh from Warsaw, where she signed an agreement to base U.S. missile interceptors there. That agreement included a promise by the United States to provide Poland with Patriot missile batteries that could be used if Russia were to attack.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, joined Rice for her talks with Maliki.

Baghdad Bureau Chief Leila Fadel contributed to this report.

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