SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, an invitation from Billy Graham's grandsons. But first, U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have been working for more than a year to come up with a deal that would govern how U.S. troops can operate in the country and how long they're going to stay. This week, U.S. officials delivered what they said was their final offer, but an Iraqi government spokesman said more talks are needed. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Baghdad.
COREY FLINTOFF: Even though Baghdad wants more discussion, spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh says the atmosphere going forward was positive. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was even more emphatic, nearly echoing the words of American officials after they delivered their last best offer.
Mr. HOSHYAR ZEBARI (Foreign Minister, Iraq): We believe it is important to conclude this agreement during the remaining days of the current administration because with them we've started this process, we know the issues, we know what is at stake.
FLINTOFF: Zebari stresses that it's also time for the Iraqi government to make up its mind. Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker, says that some members of parliament are talking about submitting any final agreement to a referendum of the Iraqi people.
Dr. MAHMOUD OTHMAN (Member, Iraqi National Assembly): So I think there's a possibility that there may be more delays because the referendum needs preparation. It could only be done with the elections. Elections would be in February - end of January, February. So, practically it will go to the next administration.
FLINTOFF: Putting the agreement to a popular vote would take a lot of pressure off Iraq's parliament, which is facing strong opposition from blocs such as the lawmakers loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Mahmoud Othman says he thinks that if the agreement is put to a popular vote, the Iraqi people will reluctantly approve it.
Dr. OTHMAN: Yes. I think the majority of Iraqi people will support it because of - not because they like it. It's a reality we have to accept.
FLINTOFF: But the status-of-forces agreement needs to be in place by the end of this year, before any referendum could be organized. That's when a United Nations mandate authorizing the U.S. occupation expires. U.S. officials have said that if there's no agreement, the American military will have to withdraw to its bases and stop providing security, training and aid to the Iraqi government. Iraqi officials have said that if there's no agreement, they'll ask the U.N. to extend the mandate to keep American troops in their country. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Baghdad.
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