White House Says U.S.-Iraq Troop Talks ‘On Track’


Washington : The White House on Monday said talks with Baghdad on an agreement governing a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq are “on track” but declined to confirm whether the two sides were still hoping for a deal by a July 31 deadline.

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“I would caution against anyone thinking that it’s off its rails. We are on track,” spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters after the Washington Post said the two sides had given up on a long-term deal and were now focusing on a short-term arrangement.

Asked whether the talks would reach a deal by late July, Perino replied, “We’ll look and see. That was certainly our target.”

“We think that we will be able to get an agreement. The most important thing is the part of the agreement that would allow for our forces to be able to operate there, in their security context,” Perino said.

“We’re on track, but we want to make sure that the gains that we’ve seen in Iraq are sustained and cemented, and that’s just going to take us a little bit more time,” the spokeswoman said.

Washington and Baghdad have been negotiating an agreement that would establish rules for U.S. soldiers in Iraq after the U.N. mandate for their presence expires at the end of the year.

President George W. Bush had set a July 31 goal for finishing the deal, but negotiations seem to have encountered trouble, particularly over whether U.S. troops would be immune from Iraqi prosecution and whether to set a withdrawal timetable.