Thursday, August 21, 2008; 12:52 PM
Has President Bush consented to a timetable for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq? That would be a huge reversal for a man who has repeatedly mocked political opponents favoring such a thing as weak-kneed defeatists.
Last month, Bush ambiguously assented to a "general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals" regarding a U.S. withdrawal. U.S. officials have now apparently reached some sort of written agreement with their Iraqi counterparts.
The question of the day is: What exactly does the agreement say?
Karen DeYoung writes for The Washington Post: "Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Thursday that Iraq and the United States have reached preliminary agreement on a pact to govern the future use of U.S. forces in the war-torn country, and said the draft will be shown to top Iraqi leaders Friday.
"'We have a text,' Zebari said after several hours of meetings between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and others. 'There is no final agreement, but we are very close . . . everything has been addressed. Tomorrow is a very important day.' . . .
"Neither Rice nor Zebari would offer specifics of the draft agreement at a post-meeting news conference."
Helene Cooper and Stephen Farrell write in the New York Times: "After the talks with Ms. Rice, the Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said the two sides had agreed on a draft, but cautioned that they had not reached a final agreement. It will be presented to the Iraqi Executive Council on Friday; if approved there, it must be passed by Parliament, which reconvenes in September.
"'All the issues have been addressed,' Mr. Zebari said. He declined to answer questions on how the draft addressed the issue of immunity for American troops from Iraqi prosecution or the timing of any withdrawal of combat soldiers."
Those are the two big questions, of course, with the timetable issue the one where the stakes are the highest for Bush politically.
Matthew Lee and Qasim Abdul-Zahra write for the Associated Press: "'We have agreed that some goals, some aspirational timetables for how that might unfold, are well worth having in such an agreement,' Rice told reporters after meeting with Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki."
Gina Chon and Yochi J. Dreazan wrote in this morning's Wall Street Journal that the agreement "calls for American military forces to leave Iraq's cities by next summer as a prelude to a full withdrawal from the country, according to senior American officials.
"The draft agreement sets 2011 as the date by which all remaining U.S. troops will leave Iraq, according to Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Haj Humood and other people familiar with the matter.