STEVE INSKEEP, host:
On a Monday morning it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
British critics of President Bush got one more chance to express their views over the weekend. The president is making his final stop on what's widely seen as his final European tour. And thousands of people in Britain marked the occasion by protesting against the war in Iraq. The president spoke with Britain's Sky News and brushed aside that criticism.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I want it to be said about George W. Bush, that when he finished his presidency he looked in the mirror at a man who did not compromise his core principles for the sake of politics - or the Gallup Poll, or the latest, you know, whatever. And you can't lead in this world if you're chasing something as temporary as a popularity poll.
INSKEEP: Later this week, the president returns to Washington where he's hearing plenty of opinions about Iraq. Bush administration officials have been getting lots of letters from Congress lately. These letters come from lawmakers complaining they're not getting enough information. They want more information about the talks on the future U.S. presence in Iraq. The administration's been trying to finish a so-called status of forces agreement with Iraq so that U.S. troops have a legal basis to be there once a UN mandate runs out at the end of this year.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on how Congress is trying to have a say.
MICHELE KELEMEN: The Bush administration has made a few promises to Congress. It says it will continue to brief lawmakers on the negotiations to reach a status of forces agreement and a broader agreement setting out the terms of the U.S./Iraqi relationship. It says it won't seek permanent basis in Iraq and won't do anything that would tie the hands of the next U.S. president. But Congressman Howard Berman, a Democrat from California, still has lots of questions.
Representative HOWARD BERMAN (Democrat, California): What's going on? What's being sought? What are the parties asking for and what's our position? I'd like to see binding legislation enacted making it clear that commitments cannot be made regarding our future obligations to the Iraqis without such commitments coming to Congress for approval.
KELEMEN: The House already passed legislation to do just that, but the Senate has yet to follow suit. Administration officials who have been receiving letters from Republicans and Democrats in Congress tried to tamp down concerns last week by meeting with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Independent Joseph Lieberman came away from that briefing in agreement with the Bush administration's line.
Senator JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): Generally speaking, the rule has been that unless either of these agreements includes a specific and, I would say, automatic commitment to come to the defense of the other country if there's an attack on it such as we have with our NATO allies and Japan, then these agreements have not been submitted to the Senate.
KELEMEN: But Howard Berman, the Congressman from California, says he still doesn't trust the assurances he's getting from the Bush administration that the U.S. is only negotiating the status of forces agreement, not long term security guarantees for Iraq.
Representative BERMAN: I was in Iraq with Speaker Pelosi three weeks ago, where Prime Minister Maliki made it quite clear that in these negotiations he is seeking exactly those kinds of guarantees to protect Iraq against both external and internal threats.
KELEMEN: The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has since signaled trouble in the negotiations.
Prime Minister NOURI AL-MALIKI (Iraq): As for the agreement, there is still no agreement. There are drafts and ideas of which there are differences in opinion. This is an agreement that needs further dialogue and discussion, especially since it is based on being an agreement between two fully sovereign countries.
KELEMEN: Maliki is constrained in part because of his own domestic politics. Some Iraqi lawmakers recently came to Washington and to Capitol Hill, calling for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal rather than a renewed lease on the U.S. presence. Congressman Berman calls that ironic.
Representative BERMAN: Well, we're now in a situation where there are some Iraqi parliamentarians, and clearly some political factions in Iraq that want this agreement to impose a deadline on American presence in Iraq. You have some of the same debate in Iraq that you have in the United States.
KELEMEN: And he says as the debate continues the Bush administration should expect more letters from Congress calling for consultations and a lot more talk about this on the presidential campaign trail.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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