BAGHDAD – The U.S. and Iraq are close to a deal to keep U.S. troops in this country next year but it will take "bold political decisions" to overcome the final hurdles, Iraq's foreign minister said Tuesday.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari made his comments to reporters at a joint press conference with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.
Zebari said the two sides were "very close" to an agreement to replace the U.N. mandate that expires this year.
But he added that "I don't want to give you any false hope," citing the issue of legal immunity for U.S. troops under Iraqi law.
"This issue needs, I think, some bold political decisions. And we are at that stage. And that's why I suggested that soon you and your colleagues will see hectic political meetings here in Baghdad on this issue to determine the fate of the agreement."
Shortly before the press conference began in the Green Zone, two explosions occurred in front of the Foreign Ministry, which is outside the U.S.-protected area. At least five Iraqis were injured.
U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have been working for months to hammer out an agreement to govern the operations of American troops in this country. Iraqi officials say the deal calls for U.S troops to leave the country by the end of 2011 unless the Baghdad government asks them to stay.
But immunity has emerged as a major stumbling block. The Iraqis want legal jurisdiction over American soldiers as an affirmation of sovereignty.
The agreement must be approved by parliament, and Iraqi officials fear opposition unless the deal satisfies Iraqi nationalists. Zebari said the U.S. had submitted new "reasonable" proposals" on immunity but stressed that the Iraqi government had taken no final decision.
Negroponte refused to discuss specifics of the talks, saying only that "both countries are pursuing this issue from the point of view of their own national self-interest."
The government is under strong pressure from neighboring Iran not to enter into a security agreement with the United States.
On Tuesday, Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, said in a statement that the agreement would be a "disgrace" for the Iraqis.
Iran opposes the security talks, saying the presence of American forces in Iraq causes regional instability.