US administration tries to defuse opposition to long-term pact with Iraq

The Bush administration sought to defuse congressional opposition to its plans to negotiate a long-term agreement with Iraq on the presence of US forces, contending it would not tie the hands of the next president. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that discussions within the administration are just getting started, but he does not expect the framework agreement to lock the next White House into specific US military base or troop commitments. "I think it's pretty clear that such an agreement would not talk about force levels," Gates said during a Pentagon news conference. "We have no interest in permanent bases," he added. At the State Department, deputy spokesman Tom Casey agreed, saying the agreement wouldn't dictate future military operations in Iraq.