PARIS, (Reuters) – U.S. President George W. Bush said on Saturday he xpected to reach a long-term security pact with Iraq despite Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki saying talks were deadlocked because of sovereignty concerns.
“If I were a betting man, we’ll reach an agreement with the Iraqis,” Bush told a joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. “Of course we’re there at their invitation.” He reiterated that such a deal would not commit future U.S. presidents to troop levels or establish permanent bases in Iraq.
The United States and Iraq have been negotiating a new security deal to provide a legal basis for U.S. troops to stay in Iraq after Dec. 31, when their U.N. mandate expires, as well as a separate long-term agreement on political, economic and security ties. “We believe that a strategic relationship with Iraq is important, it’s important for Iraq, it’s important for the United States, it’s important for the region,” Bush said.
Maliki said on Friday in Jordan that talks with the United States on a pact were at a stalemate because of U.S. demands that encroached on Iraq’s sovereignty but later tried to soften his stance. He said Iraq objected to Washington’s insistence on giving its troops immunity from prosecution in Iraq and freedom to conduct operations independent of Iraqi control. He later said that while there was deadlock on preliminary drafts of the pact, fresh ideas were being put forward by both sides.
On one of the most sensitive areas of the negotiations — whether security contractors should be given immunity from Iraqi prosecution under the agreement — Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said the U.S. side had agreed to remove their immunity.