Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expressing hope that the U.S. and Iraq can soon reach agreement on a possible U.S. military training role in Iraq beyond Dec. 31 when all U.S. troops are scheduled to depart.
Panetta's remarks Monday contrasted with indications from a senior Obama administration official and a senior U.S. military official on Saturday that the U.S. is abandoning plans to keep substantial numbers of troops in Iraq.
Panetta said negotiations are continuing, but he did not explain exactly what was being negotiated.
Regardless of whether there is a follow-on U.S. training mission, about 160 U.S. troops will be part of an Office of Security Cooperation within the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. They, along with contractors, will facilitate Iraqi arms purchases.