By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 7, 2008
A long-term "relationship" being negotiated between the United States and Iraq will include U.S. "security assurances and commitments . . . to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace," according to an agreement signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last November.
Or maybe it won't.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in congressional testimony yesterday that the agreement "will not contain a commitment to defend Iraq."
Democrats have said that Bush is seeking to tie the hands of a new administration by negotiating a broad military commitment to Iraq. The agreement, targeted for completion this summer, is designed to replace a U.N. mandate sanctioning the U.S. troop presence that ends Dec. 31.
Pressed in hearings before the House and Senate Armed Services committees, Gates reiterated that the administration will not "seek permanent bases in Iraq." Asked to submit any agreement for congressional approval, he said there will be "openness and transparency" in the negotiations.
Several lawmakers asked about a pledge to defend Iraq, noting that any such "security commitment" would require a treaty subject to Senate ratification. There will be no such pledge in any status of forces agreement, Gates said.
Gates agreed with Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), however, that a status of forces agreement, which he said set the "rules of the road" for forces in any foreign country, was different than what Skelton, the House committee chairman, called "a security agreement with an ally."
In a later exchange with Senate committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), Gates clarified that neither a status of forces agreement nor "any strategic framework agreement" would include "a commitment to protect Iraq."
The committee, Levin noted, was "very grateful" for Gates's "flat-out assurance that any agreement with Iraq will not include a security provision."
Asked to reconcile an apparent contradiction between Gates's testimony and the November Bush-Maliki "statement of principles," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said members of the administration were "carefully choosing our words because so many have tried to be misleading as to what's really going to be negotiated."