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Letter to Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, and Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, Re: Lack of Consultation with Congress on Long-Term Agreements with Iraq

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Senators Express Concern about Lack of Consultation with Congress on Long-Term Agreements with Iraq

Four senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE), Richard G. Lugar (R-IN), John F. Kerry (D-MA), and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates regarding the negotiation of any long-term agreements with the Iraqi government.

The full text of the letter is below:

June 4, 2008

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
Washington, DC

The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
Washington, DC

Dear Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates:

We write regarding the two agreements that the Administration is negotiating with Iraq. The Committee held a hearing on these two agreements on April 10, during which Administration witnesses told the Committee that the Executive Branch would consult closely with Congress "throughout the entire process."

Thus far, the Administration has not followed through on this commitment. Members submitted questions following the April hearing, many of which remain unanswered. During a May 21st briefing of staff -- the first since the April hearing -- Administration officials indicated that the negotiations have been progressing, but that Iraq has proposed significant changes to the form of the agreements. Administration officials also indicated that Iraq may be reluctant to grant some of the authorities the United States now has by virtue of the U.N. Security Council Resolution, which are required for U.S. operations. The hearing and staff briefings have provided scant detail on what these agreements will contain, despite clear bipartisan expressions at the hearing that our Committee and the Congress as a whole expected the Administration to be fully transparent about its intentions and the progress of deliberations.

The Administration is attempting to conclude a long-term agreement that will provide a "security arrangement" to a strategically important country in which 140,000 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of civilian contractors currently are stationed. Even under many withdrawal scenarios, we may have a substantial number of troops in Iraq for an extended period of time. Our troops will continue to face an extraordinarily complex environment that could include contingencies ranging from ethnic strife and internal territorial disputes to terrorist attacks, foreign incursions, or even coup attempts. Regardless of election outcomes in November, the Congress will be responsible for supporting our troops and diplomats and the missions to which they will be committed under such agreements. The Constitutional and legal implications of these potentially sweeping arrangements remain an issue of deep concern to many in Congress. Even without the appeals expressed at our April hearing, it should be apparent to the Administration that Congress requires much more detailed consultations than have been forthcoming thus far.

Furthermore, the question of whether Congress or the Senate must approve these agreements remains an open issue, and will not be resolved until the agreements are concluded. In this regard, however, we note that both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees included language barring implementation of these agreements in the supplemental appropriations legislation. While these restrictions may not be in the version the President will sign, this activity indicates a level of discomfort in Congress that will not abate on its own.

Indeed, the Foreign Relations Committee is being asked to consider legislation at its next business meeting that would prohibit the entry into force and the implementation of any such agreement containing a security assurance that is not approved by Congress. Some colleagues have indicated their intention to amend the defense authorization bill with similar language. All this could make it more difficult to conclude successfully an agreement with the full weight and force of the United States Government behind it.

The prospects for lasting success of status of forces talks and other aspects of Iraq policy in the final months of this Administration will be enhanced by the full participation of the Foreign Relations Committee and Congress. We therefore urge you to provide substantive answers to all outstanding questions-for-the-record, to personally appear before the Committee in closed session, to share the text of the most recent draft agreements, and to commit to providing the Committee with the text of the final draft agreement before it is concluded with the government of Iraq. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

Richard G. Lugar

John F. Kerry

Chuck Hagel


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