BAGHDAD — Vice President Biden on Wednesday hailed what he described as a “new phase” in the relationship between the United States and Iraq at the launch of talks with the Iraqi government on ways to restructure ties after U.S. troops have departed.
Biden flew into Baghdad late Tuesday on an unannounced visit to mark the end of the Iraq war, as U.S. troops stream out of Iraq to meet the end-of-year deadline for their departure.
In a joint statement, the two sides declared their commitment “to forging a strong partnership based on mutual interests that will continue to grow for years to come,” beyond the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq by Dec. 31.
Addressing reporters alongside Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday, Biden said the partnership would include “a robust security relationship.”
“We will continue our discussions with your government over the substance of our security arrangements, including areas of training, intelligence and counterterrorism,” he said.
But Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Wednesday that future security arrangements did not feature in the talks. “Nothing military was discussed,” he said.
Biden acknowledged the necessity of Iraq maintaining close ties with Iran after the United States has gone, Dabbagh said. “Biden told us he recognized that just because the U.S. has a bad relationship with Iran, it doesn’t mean Iraq has to.”
Negotiations on a continued U.S. military presence collapsed last month after Iraq refused to grant immunity from prosecution to U.S. troops who kill Iraqis, something the United States said was essential if American soldiers who stayed here were to be able to defend themselves.
Biden said he was confident the pullout is in the best interest of both countries. “And it’s in the best interest of the relationship,” he said.
“Iraq and the United States are two nations bound together by many things, but particularly bound together by the more than eight years of shared sacrifice and struggle,” he said.
“Few nations have gone through what you’ve gone through,” Biden said. “But now Iraq is poised to join the community of nations who are the great contributors to the world.”
Maliki echoed much of Biden’s message about entering a new phase in U.S.-Iraqi relations, one that he said will be “based on mutual respect.”
“Yes, we will face some difficulties,” Maliki said, adding that he hoped U.S. businesses would be drawn to invest in Iraq with the same intensity as American military forces did over the past decade. He said that as long as the United States and Iraq agreed on a “robust partnership,” the two sides would find much on which to cooperate.
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