Panetta sees progress on keeping some US troops in Iraq

Fri Aug 19, 2011 9:31pm GMT

* Says Iraqi's negotiating details of some U.S presence

* Decision would center on military trainers

By David Alexander

WASHINGTON, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Friday he thinks progress has been made in talks with Baghdad on maintaining some U.S. military presence in Iraq after the end-of-year deadline for withdrawing American forces.

Panetta told a group of reporters from defense-related publications that in his opinion the Iraqis had finally agreed they wanted U.S. trainers to remain there and were now negotiating the details of the future U.S. presence.

"My view is that they finally did say, 'Yes,'" Panetta said, adding that President Jalal Talibani had a meeting last week in which key Iraqi leaders had decided to request negotiations on "what a training presence would look like."

Ali al-Moussawi, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said there were no talks about extending the date for withdrawing U.S. troops beyond the end of the year, but negotiations were ongoing about whether U.S. military trainers would stay in Iraq. He said no decision had been made yet.

U.S. officials have repeatedly pressed Iraq to decide soon whether they want to keep any U.S. troop in the country. The sides would have to conclude an agreement to enable some U.S. forces to remain in the country after the year-end deadline.

Panetta said there had been some dispute as to whether a status of forces agreement was needed as part of the deal to extend the U.S. troop presence, but "I think they now recognize that they have to get that enacted as part of this."   Continued...

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