By Jim Garamone

American Forces Press Service

CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta neither pressured nor pleaded with Iraqi leaders to allow U.S. troops remain in Iraq after the scheduled Dec. 31 withdrawal date, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs said Monday.

The secretary simply wants a decision, Douglas B. Wilson said.

Panetta met separately with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani. Wilson described the talks to reporters traveling with Panetta, and said the talks went over all aspects of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship.

Panetta emphasized three points with each leader, Wilson said, the first of which was the urgent need for the Iraqi government to appoint defense and interior ministers.

"The second area of focus had to do with the rising number of attacks by extremist elements here backed by Iran and provided with Iranian weapons," Wilson said. "The secretary made it very clear that he took his responsibility for protection of U.S. troops seriously. He was very strong in his encouragement of both Prime Minister Maliki and President Talabani to move aggressively and continue to do everything they could to address these elements and fight back."

Both Iraqi leaders agreed the attacks are a threat not only to U.S. troops, but also to Iraqis, Wilson said.

Finally, Panetta addressed the next steps in the security partnership. A 2008 agreement between the United States and Iraq calls for all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by the end of this year.

"The secretary made it clear that we are neither pressuring nor pleading for U.S. troops to remain here, and that we are continuing to withdraw our forces under the agreement," Wilson said. "He made it very clear ... that time is running out for a decision and that the United States needs to know if there is going to be a request, (and) that such a request needs to made sooner, rather than later, because the logistics and economics of a ... reversal cannot turn on a dime."

Panetta did not give the Iraqi leaders a deadline for a decision, Wilson said, "but his message was clearly understood that it was needed as soon as possible."

The three issues are familiar to the Iraqi leaders, said Colin Kahl, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East. He noted Talabani specifically talked about a Saturday meeting he hosted to stand up committees "to come to closure on government formation, and to reach some consensus on the relationship with the United States."

Talabani has put a two-week deadline on that process, Kahl said.

"We're not presuming or pleading with them, and once they make a decision, all that is is a starting point for negotiations," Kahl said.

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