BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi government will begin talks with U.S. officials later in February on a pact that would lay the basis for long-term strategic ties between Washington and Baghdad, an Iraqi official said on Monday.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, Iraq's two vice presidents and the leaders of major political blocs had met on Sunday to discuss the pact.
Dabbagh said the talks with U.S. officials would begin in the third week of February but did not give a date.
"This agreement will bring economic, security, political, diplomatic benefits to Iraq and set up a sympathetic relationship with the American people," he said.
Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari has said he hopes the pact will be concluded by July.
U.S. officials were not immediately available for comment but U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker told Reuters in an interview late last month that the pact would "frame the bilateral relationship for the years and even decades ahead".
"Given the importance to both of us, there will be oversight at the highest levels of both governments," said Crocker, adding he expected to have a significant role in the negotiations.
Maliki and U.S. President George W. Bush signed a declaration of principles in November to guide negotiations on the pact.
The negotiations are not expected to determine future U.S. troop numbers in Iraq but will focus on the role of American forces. Iraq has said it will never let the United States have permanent bases on Iraqi soil.