Washington: Defence Secretary Leon Panetta
has expressed hope that the United States and Iraq can agree
soon on a possible US military training role in Iraq beyond
December 31, when all American troops are scheduled to have
Panetta`s yesterday`s remarks contrasted with
indications from a senior Obama administration official and a
senior US military official on Saturday that the US is
abandoning plans to keep any troops in Iraq past the year-end
withdrawal deadline, other than about 160 troops who would be
attached to the US Embassy.
Panetta and other top US officials have pressed the
Iraqis for months to decide whether they want a substantial US
military training mission in 2012. During his first visit to
Baghdad as Pentagon chief in July, Panetta appeared
exasperated by the Iraqis, at one point saying, "Damn it, make
But more recently Obama administration officials have
displayed less of a public sense of urgency, while noting that
the current US force of about 39,500 troops is on track to
shrink to zero by year`s end.
"At the present time I am not discouraged because we`re
still in negotiations with the Iraqis," Panetta said yesterday
when asked by a reporter whether the talks had hit an impasse.
He said James Jeffrey, the US ambassador to Baghdad, and
Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top US commander there, were in
"discussions with Iraqi leaders" that could still yield
agreement on a post-2011 US military presence.
Asked whether the US had given the Iraqis a "drop dead"
date beyond which the US would not agree to halt its troop
drawdown, Panetta said, "No, not at this point," adding,
"We`re continuing to negotiate."
At the State Department, spokesman Mark Toner said no final
decisions about a future US military presence have been made.
He would not discuss what is preventing agreement.
"I would just say that discussions with Iraqis about the
nature of that relationship are ongoing," Toner said.