By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 11, 2008
The Bush administration is negotiating two accords with the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to replace the U.N. mandate for a multinational military presence there that expires at the end of this year.
The first is a "status of forces agreement," or SOFA, defining and protecting the legal status of U.S. military personnel and property in Iraq. Negotiated and signed under executive authority, it is a binding commitment but does not require congressional approval.
Among aspects unique to the proposed SOFA, Senate Democrats said, are that it would allow U.S. forces to unilaterally initiate military operations and to detain Iraqis, and would immunize civilian U.S. contractors from prosecution in Iraq.
The second agreement is a long-term "strategic framework" the administration has said will establish "cooperation in the political, economic, cultural and security fields." A "statement of principles" that Bush and Maliki signed in December said the framework, which they plan to sign by July 31 to take effect Jan. 1, included "security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace."
Congressional Democrats have said that the agreement, as outlined by the administration, constitutes a defense treaty commitment requiring Senate ratification. The administration has said it is "nonbinding," will not include language on specific troop numbers or authorize permanent bases, and does not commit the United States to defend Iraq. It also asserts that the agreement is within Bush's executive authority.
In a meeting yesterday with Washington Post editors and reporters, U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker described the framework as a "political document" and said Congress will be kept fully briefed on the negotiations. "We're hopeful that as it moves along, it will become apparent that both hands are above the table on this," Crocker said.
David M. Satterfield, the State Department's lead official on Iraq, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the agreement would not limit the options of a future U.S. administration, because either side could cancel it at any time.
Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) questioned whether the United States should be negotiating agreements it may not keep. "Big nations can't make assurances, whether legally binding or not, without having consequences when they don't fulfill that obligation," Biden said.