April 10, 2008 / 6:04 PM / 11 years ago

US lawmakers warn against long-term Iraq deals

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON, April 10 (Reuters) - Congress may try to force the White House to seek approval for plans to sign a strategic agreement on ties with Iraq, senators said on Thursday, as one Republican warned officials "you won’t get this done" without congressional consent.

The Bush administration has repeatedly said it will keep Congress informed but not ask for its approval on either a strategic framework agreement defining long-term ties with Iraq or a separate "status of forces" agreement outlining rules and protections governing U.S. military activity in Iraq.

But Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden labeled as "folly" the outgoing White House’s plans to forge a deal that Iraq might view as a long-term commitment of U.S. troops.

"If the president persists on this course, the Congress will insist on a role in approving or disapproving these agreements," Biden, a Delaware Democrat, told the State Department’s coordinator on Iraq, David Satterfield, at a congressional hearing.

Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio warned Satterfield that congressional unhappiness with the administration’s plans for a bilateral accord with Iraq was so great that "you’re not going to get this done."

"This Congress, this Senate, are going to get involved in this issue," Voinovich told Satterfield. "Do you understand what you are up against?"

Satterfield pledged "full transparency" with Congress as negotiations go forward and insisted the agreements would not tie the next president’s hands in Iraq. President George W. Bush leaves office in January.

"They will not establish permanent bases in Iraq, nor will they specify the number of forces or the role of forces to be stationed in that country," Satterfield said.

He added that the Bush administration "must pursue what it believes to be the national interest until the last day, the last hour that it remains in office."

But Biden said whatever the administration’s vision of future relations with Iraq, it was not shared by the two Democrats battling for their party’s presidential nomination, Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.

"Big nations can’t make implied promises that the next guy coming along, or next woman coming along, may not be committed to. This is folly," Biden said.

Biden and Voinovich suggested the administration consider limiting itself to negotiating a status of forces agreement, leaving the longer-term strategic framework on relations for the next president.

The administration could also ask the United Nations to extend its mandate for the use of force by multi-national forces in Iraq for a few more months, Voinovich suggested to Satterfield. That mandate expires at the end of this year.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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