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The Iraqi Cabinet on Tuesday authorized Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to reopen talks with the United States on a security pact that would allow U.S. troops to stay in Iraq for three more years after their U.N. mandate expires on Dec. 31.

With a week to go before the American presidential elections, the Iraqi decision could delay the key agreement that provides the legal basis for the U.S. to operate in Iraq past the end of the year.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said members of the Cabinet proposed unspecified "essential" amendments and gave them to al-Maliki to offer to American negotiators.

Parliament must approve the agreement and al-Maliki is reluctant to submit the draft unless he is confident it will pass by an overwhelming majority.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said the Bush administration hasn't seen the Iraqis amendments yet, so "it's not possible to say at this point" whether U.S. officials would be willing to re-open talks. But officials have said previously that the agreement represented Washington's last offer, and that its success now rests with the complex Iraqi political system — a signal that the White House would likely be unwilling to engage in additional negotiations.



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