Iraq Premier and Obama Emphasize the Positive
WASHINGTON - President Obama welcomed Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq to the White House on Wednesday and said that despite occasional differences between the two nations' military forces, the United States was on track for withdrawing combat forces from Iraq by the end of August 2010.
"The United States and Iraq have known difficult times together," Mr. Obama said. "Now, both of us agree that the bonds forged between Americans and Iraqis in war can pave the way for progress that can be forged in peace."
In a joint appearance in the Rose Garden, the two leaders sidestepped some of the recent conflicts over details of the withdrawal and security, and they presented a positive portrait of the evolving relationship between the United States and Iraq. Although Mr. Obama conceded there would be "some tough days ahead," he said he remained confident that the Iraqi forces would ultimately be able to handle much of their own security so the United States could pull out its combat troops.
The president also said he was committed to working with Iraq to persuade the United Nations to ease international sanctions imposed on Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The sanctions, which were imposed on Saddam Hussein's government, require Iraq to pay 5 percent of its oil revenue as war reparations.
"It would be a mistake for Iraq to continue to be burdened by the sins of a deposed dictator," Mr. Obama said, responding to a question from an Iraqi reporter.
Mr. Maliki's visit to the White House for a series of meetings with Mr. Obama and other administration officials was the highlight of his weeklong trip to the United States. The two leaders met privately in the Oval Office, their first meeting since American forces turned over security in cities and towns to Iraqis on June 30.
"From working closely with the American forces and the multinational forces, our forces became highly capable," Mr. Maliki said, speaking through an interpreter. "And they will continue to do their role and their part to provide the opportunity needed for reconstruction, rebuilding and developing Iraq."
For the White House, the private meeting with the prime minister was a rare public shift away from health care policy-making, which has dominated the president's week. Mr. Obama said the United States was eager to move beyond its military relationship with Iraq to encourage more business investment and stable diplomatic relations. Still, about 130,000 United States troops remain in the country.
"Violence continues to be down, and Iraqis are taking responsibility for their future," Mr. Obama said, standing beneath a broiling sun alongside Mr. Maliki. "We have been very encouraged by the progress."
Mr. Maliki said Iraq needed to build upon a "strategic relationship on the economic front." He said Iraq planned to convene an investment conference in October for companies eager to look for business opportunities in the country.
"Iraq has suffered a great deal from being marginalized, from the policies of sectarianism and from wars," Mr. Maliki said. "We will work very hard not to allow any sectarian behavior and opportunity to flourish."
On his trip to Washington, the prime minister is also scheduled to meet with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Congressional leaders.