- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2008

President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have agreed to include a “general time horizon” for a U.S. troop withdrawal in a broad contract currently under negotiation between the two governments, the White House announced Friday.

“The president and the prime minister agreed that improving conditions should allow for the agreements now under negotiation to include a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals — such as the resumption of Iraqi security control in their cities and provinces and the further reduction of U.S. combat forces from Iraq,” said White House press secretary Dana Perino in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

The White House did not give any more specificity to define this “time horizon.”

“The president and prime minister agreed that the goals would be based on continued improving conditions on the ground and not an arbitrary date for withdrawal,” Mrs. Perino said.

The announcement comes at a time when Mr. Maliki and other top officials in his fledgling government have begun to publicly call for a hastening of the U.S. removal of troops in Iraq.

The White House and others have said that the statements by Mr. Maliki’s government are a positive sign that they are gaining confident in their ability to self-govern.

Signals have been mixed, however, as to whether or not the Iraqis are calling for a fixed withdrawal date.

The Bush administration has insisted that their Status of Forces Agreement, which ends at the end of the year, is supposed to replace a United Nations mandate authorizing U.S. forces to be present in Iraq, will not include a deployment timetable.

The announcement also comes days before the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, is scheduled to visit Iraq for the first time since January 2006 and second trip ever.

Mr. Obama, of Illinois, has made his opposition to the war from the beginning a key plank of his campaign but has grappled recently with how to adjust his stance on Iraq, given the success of Mr. Bush’s surge of 30,000 troops to the country in the spring and summer of 2007.

The senator has continued to say that he will move quickly, if elected, to end the war in Iraq responsibly,” calling it a distraction from the war in Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama has set a timetable for withdrawal of about 16 months.

Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, agrees generally with Mr. Bush that withdrawal should be based on conditions in Iraq, and opposes any timetable.

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