Julian E. Barnes and Paul Richter
Los Angeles Times
Saturday, July 19, 2008
WASHINGTON — President Bush has agreed to a “general time horizon” for withdrawals of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, the White House announced Friday in a marked softening of his long-standing opposition to deadlines for reducing the American presence.
Administration officials portrayed the shift, which was announced a day after a video conference between Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, as an evolution in policy rather than a fundamental change. They emphasized that withdrawals still would be tied to improvements in security conditions.
But military officials acknowledged that by setting targets for troop reductions, the new agreement was a step toward a timeline.
(Article continues below)
“The bottom line is I think there has been a little bit of a shift, or at least a shuffle,” a senior Defense official said.
The official and several others discussed the negotiations on condition of anonymity because the sensitive talks are not complete.
Bush and Maliki reached the agreement Thursday, in the video call aimed at breaking a logjam in talks on a long-term security pact between the U.S. and Iraq. The talks involve two agreements: a framework for future economic and security relations and a legal basis for U.S. troops to remain in the country after a U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.
American officials said the deal should allow Bush and Maliki to conclude the talks by the end of the month, as Bush has hoped. Iraqi negotiators, however, have been reluctant to be pushed into a long-term agreement, and it is unclear whether the concession would be enough to satisfy the Iraqi parliament.
The shift is likely to churn U.S. political waters. The two presumptive presidential nominees have taken opposing views on the matter. Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has called for a withdrawal timetable, while Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona has condemned the idea.
This article was posted: Saturday, July 19, 2008 at 3:24 am