US, Iraq set for talks on future relations
US and Iraqi officials will start talks on Saturday on agreements to govern future relations between the two countries, the Pentagon said on Friday.
The Bush administration's intention to negotiate documents on the status of US military forces in Iraq and a framework for diplomatic relations has prompted protests by members of the US Congress, who say they should be consulted.
Democrats say the agreement on US forces could lock the United States into a long-term military presence in Iraq. Bush's Republican administration says it is a routine measure to govern the legal status of US troops.
Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, will lead the American negotiating team in the talks in Baghdad, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
The United States expects the talks to be the start of a "long process" to normalize relations between the two countries, Morrell said.
"That begins in earnest tomorrow," he said.
Until this week, attention had focused on the "status of forces" agreement.
But David Satterfield, the State Department's coordinator for Iraq, told Congress on Tuesday the administration also planned to negotiate a "strategic framework" document on US-Iraqi relations.
Satterfield did not offer much detail on the document but said the administration did not see it as "legally binding."
US officials have said the document on the status of US forces should replace a UN Security Council resolution that expires at the end of this year and would be similar to agreements with many other countries.
One congressional critic, Rep William Delahunt of Massachusetts, said this week it would contain an "authority to fight" that is not in most such deals, which tend to focus on issues like the criminal and tax liability of US soldiers.
The United States has about 159,000 troops in Iraq, according to the Pentagon.