WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States and Iraq are still negotiating the terms of an agreement on the future presence of US troops in Iraq next year, senior US officials said Wednesday.
"Nothing is done until everything is done. Everything isn't done. The Iraqis are still talking among themselves. We are still talking to the Iraqis," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
He declined to say whether the two sides were even close to a deal.
Upon returning from a trip to Europe last week, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was "actually reasonably optimistic we will come to closure on this in a very near future."
The accord, dubbed the Status of Forces Agreement, is to put in place a deal for the future status of US troops in Iraq after the UN Security Council mandate for the multinational force expires on December 31.
Both US and Iraqi leaders have stressed that a deal is in the works.
But they have differed over some issues such as granting immunity to US soldiers for acts committed in Iraq, whether Washington has the right to detain Iraqi prisoners and on the future command of military operations on the ground.
The deal was originally set to be signed in July, but has been held up by the ongoing negotiations.
McCormack, who was speaking during the daily press briefing, kept mum about the negotiations.
"We have studiously refrained from talking about the contents of the negotiations -- where we stood, where the Iraqis stood. We are going to abide by that right up until the very end," McCormack said.
Asked repeatedly whether he would confirm there is at least a draft agreement, he replied: "There are words on a piece of paper."
When asked if there is at least a text, McCormack replied: "Yes, obviously, there's a text that people are looking at... They're still talking about it."
Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, also confirmed there was still no agreement when asked for an update. "No, the talks continue," he told reporters aboard Air Force One.
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