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In Iraq, Diplomatic Stalemate Over U.S. Presence

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

We'll start today with a diplomatic stalemate in Iraq. Not between rival factions or between American troops and insurgents, but between the U.S. and the Iraqi government it supports. The dispute is over a status of forces agreement, some call it a SOFA. The U.S. has this kind of agreement with dozens of other countries. In this case, it would set parameters for the future U.S. presence in Iraq. Both the U.S. and Iraq had hoped to work out the agreement by the end of this month.

But NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has been talking to Iraqi leaders and they say that's not going to happen. Lou Lou, tell us what's changed.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, simple, Iraqi politicians that we spoke to said they're looking instead at a short-term interim agreement that would give U.S. troops a legal basis to stay here, but would not be as comprehensive as a status of forces agreement. What they're looking at is some sort of protocol or memorandum of understanding, these are the words they used.

The question is whether this protocol will provide U.S. troops with the legal basis necessary to operate here. Since 2003, American and other foreign forces have operated in Iraq under a U.N. mandate. It expires at the end of the year, so some alternative will have to be reached so that U.S. forces can continue their presence here.

SEABROOK: And any comment from the U.S. about this idea that a status of forces agreement may not work out?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They are saying very little publicly and that has been their position all along. A U.S. official close to the negotiations said, quote, "It will be an agreement that is acceptable to both sides, you can call it whatever you want." Very curt. These talks are very fluid, the goal posts are changing all the time.

But when I spoke to National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie from Iraq, he said that they are looking at a number of options to replace the SOFA agreement. So everything at the moment is on the table.

SEABROOK: Is the political process going on here in the United States affecting this attempt at an agreement?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, certainly the foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, gave a press conference this week in which he said that the political process in the United States was having an effect on these negotiations. You also have to remember that there is a political process in Iraq as well. A lot of political parties are using these talks to bolster their own credibility, if you will.

The issue of Iraqi sovereignty, whatever people think about the presence of U.S. troops in this country, the occupation in this country, is all being brought to bear on these negotiations.

SEABROOK: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Baghdad. Lou Lou, thanks very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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