From Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller:
Tomorrow afternoon President Obama will sit down in the Oval Office with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
“This is a big adjustment period,” a senior administration official says, “both for Iraqi and for the US.”
Over the course of Thursday and Friday, Maliki will also meet with Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Ca. He will attend a conference on investment at the Commerce Department and an information meeting at the State Department – as part of the Strategic Framework Agreement.
Maliki arrives in New York City this evening, and will meet with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday.
“This visit is the sign of a comprehensive and long-term partnerships between Iraq and the United States that goes beyond security and cooperation,” a senior administration official said tonight to reporters, to preview the meeting, “Not just looking at the short-term.”
In the short term, there are tensions between US troops and Iraq's government. As part of a previously negotiated agreement that will end with all US forces out of Iraq by the end of 2011, US troops withdrew from Iraqi cities on June 30. But some US troops are complaining that the way the Iraqi government is interpreting the agreement is creating overly rigid restrictions on the movements of US troops, hindering the ability of US forces to travel and deliver supplies and to conduct raids in a timely manner, and endangering US soldiers' lives.
The issue of security will be addressed.
"The two leaders will have firm conversations,” a senior administration official said, “We don’t want to see any backsliding or deterioration.”
Senior administration officials praised the Iraqi government’s effort to address political issues. “Iraqi politicians and the Iraqi public have shown they want to go forward," one said. "It’s a county that has shown they have embrace politics.”
They said they will hope the effort will continue to try to bring people into the political process, and mentioned as proof of a “good sign” that people like Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are engaged in the political progress.
There will be a discussion on reattaching Iraq to the region. Administration officials said that Iraq has been isolated in the past – and they intend to work with the Iraqis to integrate them into the region and the international community.
‘Iraq now understands that if it’s going to be successful it’s got to have better relations with its neighbors," said an official.
Are they satisfied with the pace of change in Iraq?
“Like a lot of things in life, we need to keep working on these things,” a senior administration official said. "It’s complicated, the problems have been around for decades…Would we like to see more progress on these issues? Of course we would. “
Senior administration officials continued to frame this as a new relationship that would be “normal” – like the US’s relationships with other sovereign countries.
“This is the beginning of a long-lasting, normal bilateral relationship with a sovereign nation of Iraq," an official said. "Our goal is to normalize the relationship to be able to concentrate on other areas and to have the same kind of relationship with have with Iraq as we do with other nations.”
On the agenda for the meeting – with the President and beyond — the development of “non-security ties” cultural exchanges, and laying the groundwork for future economic cooperation and trade.
One topic not on the agenda for discussion – the President will not ask Iraq to take detainee transfers out of Guantanamo.
“I don’t anticipate that,” a senior administration official said, not answering if that was due to security concerns, “It may be that during the course of this process that working with Iraq on that will make sense but the fact is that we just have not worked that.”
- Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller