The United States warned Thursday that the window on difficult negotiations for a US-Iraq security pact is "rapidly coming to a close" as it reviewed proposed Iraqi changes to the deal.
"I really don't want to comment until we've had a chance to really review them," State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood told reporters when asked about the proposed amendments.
"But, you know, as we said, we think we have a good agreement. And the window for any kind of discussions, negotiations is ... rapidly coming to a close," Wood added.
"So I'll just leave it at that. Once we have something to say on it, we will," he said. "But for the moment, we're just taking our time in reviewing it to make sure that ... we've got a good sense of what it is the Iraqis have put forward."
President George W. Bush on Wednesday promised to consider Baghdad's proposed changes but warned against shifts that risked "undermining" the accord.
"We received amendments today (Wednesday) from the government. We're analyzing those amendments. We obviously want to be helpful and constructive without undermining basic principles," Bush told reporters.
Bush, who did not spell out what sorts of changes to the planned Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) would be unacceptable, declared he was "very hopeful and confident that the SOFA will get passed."
The US president had hoped to have the accord in hand by July 31, but now is all but certain not to see it approved before the November 4 elections to choose his successor.
The draft version has drawn fire from Iraqi political figures on grounds that it undermines their war-torn country's sovereignty, likely to be a key theme in local and regional elections set for January 31.
Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr opposes the pact, while top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has warned through a statement from his office that any final deal must not harm Iraqi sovereignty.
The Iraqi cabinet has authorized Maliki to negotiate changes in the pact, which will lay out the rights and responsibilities of US forces in Iraq beyond December 2008 when their present UN mandate expires.