President Obama, meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki for the first time since U.S. troops pulled back from Iraq’s cities last month, acknowledged Wednesday that “differences in strategy” between the two countries remained to be resolved, but said he was satisfied with developments in the war-torn nation.
Obama downplayed concerns that Iraqi officials are restricting operations by U.S. troops.
“Overall, we have been very encouraged by the progress that’s been made,” Obama said. “What we’ve seen is that the violence levels have remained low, the cooperation between U.S. forces and Iraqi forces has remained high, and we have every confidence that we will continue to work together cooperatively.”
The meeting at the White House came at a critical juncture for U.S. and Iraqi leaders. Under a security agreement signed last year, U.S. forces are preparing for a complete withdrawal by the end of 2011.
Iraqis, meanwhile, are preparing for another round of elections next year amid uneven security and continuing ethnic tension.
“We have seen both improved capacity and greater confidence on the part of Iraqi security forces,” Obama said during a Rose Garden news conference after meeting the Iraqi leader. “There are going to be, at times, differences in strategy.”
The two also addressed the government of Iraq’s appetite for accelerated U.S. investment and the Obama administration’s desire to see speedier ethnic reconciliation in the Mideast country.
One of Maliki’s chief goals on the U.S. trip was to persuade the United Nations to lift trade barriers that were imposed on Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of neighboring Kuwait in 1990. Although many of the sanctions have been lifted, some remain -- along with the Security Council’s determination that Iraq represents a threat to international peace. Obama backed Maliki’s quest.
“We have made a strong commitment to work with Iraq to get out of the Chapter 7 constraints that were imposed after the Gulf War,” Obama said. “It would be a mistake for Iraq to continue to be burdened [by the acts of] a deposed dictator.”
Earlier, at the U.N., Maliki was told that the restraints could soon be lifted.
“There is an opportunity,” British Ambassador John Sawers said after joining representatives of the United States, China, France and Russia in a meeting with Maliki. “One of the things that came out of the meeting with the prime minister was that the time was right to address these issues.”
Obama and Maliki had met in Baghdad in April, and Vice President Joe Biden recently met with Maliki there, relaying the administration’s concern about the pace of ethnic healing.
The Iraqi government should promote “national unity,” Obama said. This includes approval of legislation to share oil revenue and integrating the country’s various ethnic and religious groups into its government and security forces.
In his meeting with Obama, Maliki said, he also emphasized Iraq’s thirst for stepped-up U.S. investment.
The prime minister planned a visit today to Arlington National Cemetery in honor of the more than 4,300 U.S. military men and women who have died in the Iraq war.