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Biden, Iraqi Leaders Discuss Strengthening Bilateral Ties

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January 13, 2011

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad Thursday, just hours after arriving in the Iraqi capital.

Biden's unannounced trip marks the first visit by a top U.S. official since Iraq approved a new Cabinet last month. It comes as the U.S. prepares pull its troops out of the country by year's end.

Earlier, Iraqi officials said they expected that the issue of whether to keep some U.S. forces in the country beyond the December 31 deadline would dominate talks. However, the Reuters news agency says the issue was not discussed during Biden's meeting with Maliki.

Maliki is under pressure from hardline Shi'ite members of his coalition government not to extend the U.S. military presence beyond the end of the year, even though Iraqi and U.S. officials have said the country will not be in a position to defend its borders on its own. About 50,000 U.S. troops remain in the country.

The U.S. vice president is meeting with other leaders, including President Jalal Talibani, Kurdish regional President Masoud Barzani and Ayad Allawi, a secular Shi'ite who heads the Sunni-backed opposition Iraqiya bloc.

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