"It will be conditions-based," Perino said at today's White House press briefing. "We agree it would be flexible, we agree it is not an arbitrary date for withdrawal."
Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed last Thursday to include in their pending security agreement a "general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals" for the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq. Bush has consistently opposed setting dates for troop withdrawal since the 2003 invasion.
Reporters pressed Perino on the similarity of Maliki's preferred timeline to that forwarded by Barack Obama. An Iraqi government spokesman today affirmed hopes for U.S. combat troops to leave by 2010, and Maliki was recently quoted in German magazine Der Spiegel as agreeing with Obama's 16-month timetable.
"Let's be clear," Perino said. "This agreement that we are working on is nothing like the 40 or 50 arbitrary withdrawal plans that we saw many members of Congress support over the past several years."
Congressional Democrats have proposed timetables for troop withdrawal, most prominently attaching them to war funding bills. Bush has rejected Congress's timetables consistently.
When asked about the Iraqi government's choice to state its position publicly, Perino said, "We don't think that talking about specific negotiating tactics or your negotiating position in the press is the best way to negotiate a deal."
"However, we understand that they're a sovereign country and they'll be able to do that," she continued. "We're just not going to do it on our end."
The administration shifted gears last week in its security talks with Iraq, abandoning negotiations for a long-term status of forces agreement and opting instead to work for a more limited agreement that would allow the U.S. to maintain its military presence in Iraq after the U.N. mandate for it expires this year.