Khaleej Times, June 9, 2008
TEHERAN - Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday warned Iraq's visiting prime minister against signing an agreement with the United States keeping foreign troops in the country beyond 2008.
The continued presence of US troops was Iraq's "fundamental problem," Khamenei told Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, expressing confidence that Iran's western neighbour would dash the "dreams" of the United States.
The meeting -- on the final day of Maliki's third visit to Teheran as prime minister -- came amid alarm in Iran over the mooted Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) pact between Baghdad and Washington.
"The most fundamental problem of Iraq is the presence of the foreign forces," Khamenei told Maliki in comments reported by state television.
"We are certain that the Iraqi people will pass the difficult circumstances and reach the status they deserve. For sure, the American dreams will not materialise."
Washington and Baghdad are in negotiations aimed at signing the deal by the end of July to cover the presence of foreign troops beyond 2008 when the current UN mandate expires.
Iraqi media reports have said the United States is seeking to keep as many as 50 bases indefinitely -- suggestions that have alarmed Washington's arch enemy Iran. US officials have denied having such plans.
Supporters of radical Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr -- said to be studying in Iran -- have opposed the pact and Maliki has toughened his position since reaching an agreement in principle with US President George W. Bush last November.