Britain seeks long-term pact with Iraq by year-end

Britain seeks to sign a long-term partnership pact with Iraq before the end of the year, which would provide for the presence of a small British force in the country, a British government spokesman said Monday.

The British government's spokesman in the Middle East, Jon Wilks, told the Iraqi daily al-Sabah that London was awaiting the outcome of the ongoing negotiations between Iraq and the US over a bilateral long-term security pact, reported dpa.

Britain "hopes that it can seal a partnership agreement with Iraq before the end of the year, setting a new stage for the military presence of alliance forces, which will see their mandate expire by year-end according to UN resolutions," Wilks said.

"There is no timetable for British troop withdrawal from Iraq because troops are there with the consent of the Iraqi government and in accordance with UN resolutions," the spokesman added.

The number of British troops, the spokesman said, will be determined by the security situation in Iraq.

Since October, the British government has cut troops from 5,000 to 4,000. In April, British Secretary of Defence Des Browne announced that further cuts to 2,500 were halted due to violence in the southern Basra province.

British troops took part in a security offensive launched by the Iraqi government at the end of March against Shiite militias in Basra.

A British delegation is expected to visit Iraq in July for talks over a long-term partnership, Wilks said.

Separately, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told US broadcaster CNN on Sunday that he expected Iraq to reach a long-term security pact with the US by the end of July, brushing aside reports that negotiations have reached an impasse.

"We made a great deal of progress on finalizing the strategic framework agreement," Zebari said.

Progress have been made on key issues, such as how much authority US troops will have outside their bases and whether they would use those bases to launch strikes against other countries in the region, Zebari explained.

Baghdad "made it absolutely clear that Iraq will not be used for any offensive actions or for any attacks against any of Iraq's neighbours," the minister said.

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