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U.S. to "listen" if Iraq requests troops to stay

(Xinhua)

08:35, August 17, 2011

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday said the administration will "listen" if the Iraqi government requests U.S. troops to stay longer.

"We are going to maintain long-term relationship with Iraq to make sure they remain stable, whether it's diplomatic or military, " said Panetta, who participated alongside Clinton in a televised conversation at the National Defense University. He stressed despite recent bloodshed in that country, Iraq has a relatively stable democracy in that part of the world, and "it's very important for us to make it right."

According to security agreements with the Iraqi government, U.S. troops are scheduled to be out of that country by year-end, and the U.S. side has signaled openly recently that it would accept Iraqi request for at least part of the U.S. troops to stay beyond this year.

Clinton and Panetta reiterated that position Tuesday. Clinton said it is in U.S. interest to keep the commitment of drawdown, but when Iraq comes to U.S. with such requests, "it would be irresponsible for us not to listen." She said there hasn't been a formal request yet, but she believes the Iraqis are discussing it internally.

Panetta, for his part, said assistance in anti-terrorism and troops training provided to Iraq can be part of a normal relationship between nations.

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