McCain meets with Iraqi leader

Appearing together in solidarity, Republican John McCain and Iraq's president said Saturday that the war-ravaged country is making significant but fragile progress.

The presumptive GOP presidential nominee expressed confidence about prospects for the two countries completing a complex agreement that would keep U.S. troops in Iraq after a U.N. mandate expires at year-end. And, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said an American military presence still was needed.

“I, of course, am encouraged. We both agree that the progress has been significant but the progress is also fragile. And there's a lot of work that needs to be done,” McCain said at the end of a private 45-minute meeting with Talabani.

Sitting next to the Arizona senator at a Washington hotel, Talabani nodded in agreement and said it was a pleasure and an honor to update an “old friend” about “this stage of success” in Iraq.

U.S. and Iraqi authorities are trying to meet a July target date for completing a security agreement. Talks bogged down over several key issues, which Iraqi lawmakers said violated the nation's sovereignty. Recently, however, Iraqi authorities said prospects for a deal had brightened after the Americans submitted new, unspecified proposals.

Talabani discussed the issue with President Bush on Wednesday.

McCain emphasized that the two countries will decide the role of U.S. forces together.

“I am confident that the two nations, as sovereign nations, will reach agreement in the best interest of the United States of America and the best interest of the government of Iraq,” McCain said.

“We are winning in Iraq, and we will withdraw, but we will withdraw with victory and honor,” McCain said.

Talabani, for his part, said his country has achieved “good successes and achievements” in training the Iraqi army and police force.

But, he said: “We are still in need to have American military presence in Iraq, and it must be decided by both governments of the United States and Iraq how much they will remain there.”