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U.S. reaffirms expectation for troop pact with Iraq

WASHINGTON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - The White House on Thursday shrugged off the suggestion by the leader of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region that an agreement for U.S. troops to stay beyond 2008 would likely not pass the Iraqi cabinet and parliament.

Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, met with U.S. President George W. Bush on Wednesday at the White House where the two leaders expressed support for the pact which has been the focus of negotiations for months.

Bush also said he was hopeful and confident an agreement would be reached. But during a meeting with reporters and editors from the Washington Post, Barzani said "I'm doubtful it will pass," the newspaper reported on Thursday.

Iraq has demanded changes to a final draft, which calls for a drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011 and dictated how cases in which U.S. troops breached Iraqi law would be handled.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino on Thursday brushed aside Barzani's remark and said the Bush administration was reviewing the proposed amendments that the Iraqi government had submitted.

"I do think it will be hard for Iraq to pass it," Perino told reporters in Washington. "If you stick around, I'm sure by tomorrow you'll have a different Iraqi politician or leader with a different sentiment."

The pact would replace a U.N. Security Council resolution, which was enacted after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and which expires at the end of the year.

Perino said Bush's optimistic outlook for an agreement was still accurate.

"We remain hopeful and confident that we'll be able to get an agreement done," she said. "But there are certain underlying principles, basic principles, that we're not going to compromise on."

Two Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, wrote Bush on Wednesday urging him to instead seek a renewal of the U.N. mandate rather than negotiate a new bilateral agreement.

Asked about such a move, Perino said: "We're going to continue to try to get an agreement. Because we've gotten this far, we might as well try to continue to work on it." (Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by David Wiessler)

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