U.S. stands by July target for Iraq security deal

Mon Jun 2, 2008 3:06pm EDT

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BAGHDAD, June 2 (Reuters) - A senior U.S. official said on Monday that the United States still hopes to reach a new security agreement with Iraq by July, even though Iraqi officials say negotiations are at an early stage.

U.S. and Iraqi officials began talks in March on twin agreements on the status of U.S. military forces in Iraq after 2008 and a framework for diplomatic relations.

A senior U.S. government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said President George W. Bush's goal of completing the negotiations by July still stood.

"The consultations on all these issues are quite intense. We certainly intend to work -- and the Iraqi side has not told us anything to the contrary -- towards the idea of moving forward ... by July on this," he told reporters.

The talks have angered many Iraqis who suspect the United States, which led the 2003 invasion of Iraq, of wanting to keep a permanent presence there.

Last Friday, thousands of Iraqis answered a call by anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to protest at the planned agreement to give a legal basis to U.S. troops to stay in Iraq after Dec. 31, when their United Nations' mandate expires.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on Sunday that talks on the deal were still at an early stage and that Washington and Baghdad differed over what should be in it.

The United States has around 155,000 troops in Iraq and how long U.S. troops will stay in the country is a big issue in the U.S. presidential election.

The U.S. official said both agreements being negotiated with Iraq were based on "recognition of and respect for the fact of Iraqi sovereignty."

He denied press reports, which he said had been inspired by Iran or by Sadr's movement, that Washington was trying to force Iraq into an agreement.

"These are negotiations between two sovereign parties, each of which has the ability to say 'yes' or say 'no'," he said.

The agreements reached would be transparent, submitted to the Iraqi parliament and would have no secret content, he said.

"There is much disinformation, misinformation being put out about what we are proposing and what the Iraqis can or cannot accept," he said.

Sadr has called for protests to continue until Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government agrees to a referendum on the U.S. presence in Iraq. (Reporting by Adrian Croft and Ross Colvin; Editing by Jon Boyle) (adrian.croft@thomsonreuters.com; Reuters Messaging: adrian.croft.reuters.com@reuters.net))

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