(AFP) – Apr 10, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — A senior State Department official Thursday ruled out fresh demands from top Democrats for any deal with Iraq on future US troop operations to be submitted to Congress for approval.
David Satterfield, US coordinator for Iraq, testified to a Senate committee after top Democrats, including White House hopeful Hillary Clinton, expressed fears the proposed deal would tie the hands of the next president.
Iraq and the United States are set to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to legitimize US operations in Iraq beyond the end of the year, when the United Nations resolution governing their presence expires.
"In keeping with past practice, our intent is to conclude the SOFA as an executive agreement, rather than a treaty subject to Senate approval," Satterfield said in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations panel.
"We will continue to consult with Congress throughout the entire process as negotiations proceed in the coming months," Satterfield said.
On Wednesday, Clinton made her latest call for a deal to be endorsed by Congress, a day after asking US ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker, why the Iraq parliament would get to consider the deal and US lawmakers could not.
"I call on President Bush to pledge to the American people ... that the United States Congress will have the chance to review and vote on any long-term security agreement he has negotiated with the Iraqis," she said.
Committee Chairman Senator Joseph Biden pointed out that Clinton and fellow Democrat Barack Obama differ on Iraq strategy with Bush, and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.
"We are going to have a new president ... the vision this administration has of Iraq is clearly not shared by two of the three," Biden, a veteran Democrat, said.
Satterfield replied: "Mr Chairman, I speak on behalf of this administration," prompting Biden to counter "Right, that's exactly the point I want to make."
"We are about to codify, we are about to lay out for the whole world to see, this president's vision of our rationale in Iraq."
"What the heck are we doing?"
The Bush administration says that any deal would be similar to more than 80 such pacts with other nations around the world governing the scope of US operations, and providing protection for American soldiers.
It says the pact will not specify troop levels, establish permanent bases in Iraq or tie the next president's hands.
But Democrats say a SOFA with Iraq is different, as US troops are engaged in a war zone, and fear the deal would be used by the administration to set in stone a US presence far outlasting Bush's term, which expires next year.
Both Obama and Clinton have vowed to bring US troops home from Iraq if elected.
Democrats are also concerned about the second facet of the deal, a broader "strategic framework" for long-term US-Iraqi relations.
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