Mon, Nov 17, 2003 - Page 1 News List

US troops to stay in Iraq beyond June, Rumsfeld says

REUTERS , KADENA AIR BASE, OKINAWA

American troops will not be withdrawing from Iraq starting next June under a faster timetable for self-rule in the country, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters yesterday.

"No, no," he told reporters traveling with him on a visit to Okinawa when asked if plans announced by Iraq's Governing Council for a transitional government would have any bearing on the continued presence of US forces in the troubled country.

Rumsfeld talked with US troops stationed on the Japanese island and met Okinawa's governor, who presented the defense secretary with a list of grievances about the effect of the American military presence on the local population.

Rumsfeld arrived in Seoul last night for talks with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Defense Minister Cho Young-kil today. He will visit US troops on Tuesday before returning to Washington at the end of his first trip to Japan and South Korea since the Bush administration took office.

In Baghdad on Saturday, Jalal Talabani, current president of the US-appointed Governing Council, announced that a sovereign Iraqi government would take over power from occupation authorities by the end of next June.

Iraq's US administrator, Paul Bremer, had been recalled to Washington last week for hastily convened talks on Iraq. On his return, the Council unveiled a political timetable.

"The presence of the forces of the United States and other countries will be discussed by the transitional government," Talabani said. "If we need them to stay, we will ask them to stay. If we don't, we will respectfully ask them to leave."

Rumsfeld told reporters yesterday: "This has nothing to do with US troops in Iraq.

"The timetable, or the way ahead that the Governing Council has been describing, relates to the governance aspects of the country and not to the security aspects. That's on a separate track.

"We're working to bring in additional coalition forces, we're making plans for the rotation of our forces out and new US and coalition forces in," he said.

"And the announcements with respect to Iraqi governance don't have a relationship to that. And any stories that you're seeing like that ought to have someone raise questions about the source," Rumsfeld said.

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