WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has launched a top-level lobbying campaign to persuade skeptical U.S. lawmakers and disapproving Iraqi politicians to support a security agreement governing the continued presence of American troops in Iraq.
Although congressional approval is not legally required, U.S. lawmakers' support is considered crucial for an agreement to go forward. In Iraq, where the deal must pass through several complex layers of approval, the going is considered even tougher.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, are among those reaching out to key members of the House and Senate. Rice also is pressing senior Iraqi leaders to accept the deal.
The agreement includes a time line for U.S. withdrawal by 2012 and a crucial but unpopular compromise that gives Iraq limited ability to try U.S. contractors or soldiers for major crimes committed off-duty and off-base, officials said Thursday.
The campaigns of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and Republican rival John McCain, both on Senate committees that deal with the issue, have been briefed on the draft, although neither candidate has signaled a position publicly.
The administration's greatest concern for the deal's future is not the U.S. Congress but Iraq's fractured internal political system. There is some pessimism in Washington that the agreement will survive the Iraqi approval process.
The administration had hoped to conclude the agreement by the end of July, to leave plenty of time to sell it before the current U.N. mandate for the U.S.-led international force in Iraq expires on Dec. 31. Now it has less than three months to go before that legal cover for U.S. forces disappears.
The U.N. mandate could be extended, but that could be a difficult process.