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Iraq: Talabani Sees Possibility Of Some U.S. Troop Withdrawal

Jalal Talabani at a White House press conference today Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, met for an hour today at the White House with U.S. President George W. Bush. Their discussion likely included Talabani's comment to "The Washington Post" newspaper that the United States could withdraw as many as 50,000 troops from Iraq by the end of this year. This conflicts with repeated statements by Bush that he will set no timetable for a pullout. At a news conference after their meeting, Talabani expressed hope that some U.S. troops could start withdrawing by the end of 2006.

Washington, 13 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Talabani has said there will be no timetable for a withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign forces from Iraq. He said -- as Bush has said repeatedly -- that to do so would only give insurgents the opportunity to wait for the Americans to leave. But today he did raise the possibility of some U.S. troops withdrawal.

"We hope that by the end of 2006, our security forces are up to the level of taking responsibility from many American troops, with complete agreement with Americans," Talabani said.

Iraq now has about 190,000 troops, some well-trained, some lagging.

In "The Washington Post" interview, Talabani said, "In my opinion, at least from 40,000 to 50,000 American troops can be [withdrawn] by the end of this year."

But in the news conference, Talabani pushed back the date by one year.

"The Washington Post" said that after the interview with Talabani, it called both the White House and the Pentagon for comment. A White House adviser, whose name was not given, told the newspaper that Talabani did not mean to lay out a specific withdrawal timeline.

The official told "The Washington Post" that any U.S. withdrawal would depend on the level of insurgent violence in Iraq and the capability of the Iraqi armed forces to deal with it.

There are now about 140,000 American troops in Iraq, and they are not likely to be reduced before the nationwide referendum on the country's new constitution, which is scheduled for 15 October.

At the news conference, both Talabani and Bush were asked about comments critical of Syria made yesterday in Washington by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Khalilzad accused Damascus of admitting young Arab men into the country to get military training, then letting them cross into Iraq to join the insurgency.

Today, Talabani complained in general about what he called "foreign interference" in Iraq. Bush spoke more specifically, saying Syria could -- if it wanted -- do much to stop fueling the insurgency in Iraq, and to lessen its influence on neighboring Lebanon.

"The Syrian leader must understand we take his lack of action seriously and the [Syrian] government is going to be more and more isolated as a result of two things: one, not being cooperative with the Iraqi government in terms of securing Iraq, and two, not being fully transparent about they did in Lebanon," Bush said.
"We hope that by the end of 2006, our security forces are up to the level of taking responsibility from many American troops, with complete agreement with Americans." -- Jalal Talabani

Many Lebanese accuse Syria of having a hand in the assassination in February of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Since then, Syria has withdrawn its troops from Lebanon, but it is unclear whether Damascus still exerts its political influence there.

On another subject, a reporter asked about the prospects that the United Nations Security Council might impose sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program. Bush replied that it is too early to consider sanctions because the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is still in the process of investigating Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Bush noted that Iran says it seeks only civilian nuclear power. He said that if this were its only goal, why did it hide the program from the IAEA for years? But so far, Bush said, he is satisfied with the European effort to negotiate a settlement.

"I want to applaud the Germans and the French and the British for sticking together in developing a common message to the Iranians, and now we'll see how the Iranians respond here on their visit to the United States," Bush said.

Bush also questioned why Iran is so intent on a civilian nuclear power program, given that it is rich in oil. But he added that it is Iran's right to pursue it, as long as the plan is peaceful.

See also:

U.S. Warns Syria To Stop Insurgents Entering Iraq

Analysis: Operation In Tal Afar A Success, But For How Long?

More news and analysis on Iraq

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