WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. and Iraqi leaders signed a plan for bilateral relations, setting the stage for formal negotiations about the long-term presence of American troops in Iraq.
President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki sign the nonbinding agreement via video conference.
President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Monday signed the nonbinding agreement via video conference.
The plan is based on a more informal agreement between the United States and Iraq that was developed in August and discussed in September during a nationwide address by the president.
The joint statement is called the "U.S.-Iraq Declaration Of Principles For Friendship And Cooperation" -- which the document says would move both countries "closer to normalized, bilateral relations."
"Today's document is now the first of a three-step process that actually codifies this mutual decision for a long-term partnership," said Gen. Douglas Lute, assistant to the president for Iraq and Afghanistan, speaking to reporters at a press briefing.
The next step would be the renewal of a U.N. mandate for the Multinational Force-Iraq's mission for a final year and a bilateral military relationship without U.N. restraints after the mandate expires. The renewals have been done yearly since 2003 and the next renewal is expected by the end of this year.
Al-Maliki said on Iraqi TV on Monday that Iraq will ask the United Nations to approve the mandate for one final year, a period that will last through 2008. He said negotiations based on the declaration will start as soon as possible.
Iraq has been under U.N. constraints since the Saddam Hussein era and the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Iraq wants to be free of those restrictions since Hussein is no longer in power.
Lute said that "in the course of 2008, the two countries, the United States and Iraq, will codify formally our bilateral relationship with, as we're calling it, the strategic framework agreement. Today's declaration outlines the main parts of what we expect that emerging agreement to contain."
He said the document is not a treaty, but instead a "set of principles from which to begin formal negotiations. Think of today's agreement as setting the agenda for the formal bilateral negotiations that will take place in the course of '08."
The declaration says this process would put the United States and Iraq "on a path toward negotiating agreements that are common throughout the world."
"The U.S. has security relationships with over 100 countries around the world, including recent agreements with nations such as Afghanistan and former Soviet bloc countries," it says.
The bilateral relationship would also address military, political, diplomatic, and economic spheres.
The declaration's security principles call for supporting "the Iraqi government in training, equipping, and arming the Iraqi Security Forces so they can provide security and stability to all Iraqis."
It also calls for supporting the Iraqi government "in contributing to the international fight against terrorism."
Both countries say they are "committed to strengthening Iraq's democratic institutions, upholding the Iraqi Constitution, supporting Iraqi national reconciliation, and enhancing Iraq's position in regional and international organizations." E-mail to a friend