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Published:November 9th, 2010 12:52 EST

Robert Gates: U.S. Open to Talks on Post-2011 Presence in Iraq

By SOP newswire3

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Nov. 9, 2010 " Expressing hope that the Iraqis are making progress in forming a new government, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today it will be up to the Iraqis, if they believe it necessary, to ask the United States to keep troops there beyond the 2011 deadline.

The United States has made clear that it wants Iraq to form an inclusive government that represents all of the major elements of Iraqi society, and in a nonsectarian way, so they can go forward as a nation together, " Gates said. And it is our hope that that is the direction that they are moving in, taking a further step toward a democratic Iraq. "

Speaking during a news conference here with Malaysian Defense Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Gates left the door open to discussions about a continued troop presence in Iraq beyond the Dec. 31, 2011, deadline.

In terms of a future strategic relationship beyond 2011, I would say that initiative clearly needs to come from the Iraqis, " he said. We are open to discussing it. "

But Gates said he wouldn`t expect such a request, at least until the Iraqis have selected a president, prime minister and speaker of the council of representatives and made ministerial-level appointments.

We will stand by and be ready to have that discussion if and when they want to raise it with us, " he said.