(Updates with Biden’s itinerary, Pentagon response starting in second paragraph.)
Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Baghdad today on an unannounced visit as the U.S. is winding down its military commitment in the country.
Biden is there to meet with political leaders including Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani and to speak to the remaining U.S. troops as they prepare to withdraw by the end of the year, according to a White House statement.
The visit marks a transition in the U.S.-Iraq relationship now that U.S. combat forces are poised to depart. Biden is scheduled to take part in a meeting of the U.S.-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee, intended to strengthen future political, trade, defense and security cooperation between the countries.
President Barack Obama announced last month that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year after almost a decade of war. As of Nov. 21, 20,000 U.S. military personnel remain in Iraq, down from a peak of almost 170,000 in 2007.
The vice president’s arrival in Baghdad, which wasn’t announced beforehand because of security concerns, is the first stop on a trip with planned stops in Turkey and Greece.
Biden, making his eighth trip to the country as vice president, will give remarks at an event thanking U.S. troops for their sacrifices, the White House statement said.
When asked by a reporter why the White House didn’t announce Biden’s trip in advance if the security situation has improved in Iraq, Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain John Kirby said that though security in the country is “enormously better” than it has been in the past, the U.S. still must take “prudent” precautions.
“I don’t think it says anything in terms of the larger message about the security situation in Iraq,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon today.
“We believe that the security situation in Iraq is enormously better than it was, and that the Iraqi Security Forces are capable and competent at protecting their people and their country,” he said.
Biden is scheduled to arrive in Ankara, Turkey on Dec. 2 for talks on the situation in Syria, keeping up pressure on Iran and the impact of the Arab Spring on countries in the Middle East and North Africa, according to the administration. He’ll also take part in a summit on global entrepreneurship in Istanbul.
“We’ll talk about the support for political and economic reform in the countries of the Arab Spring, including the situation in Syria,” Antony Blinken, Biden’s national security adviser, said in a briefing yesterday.
He is scheduled to visit Athens, Greece on Dec. 5 where he will hold the administration’s first meeting with Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos.
---With assistance from Viola Gienger in Washington. Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Laurie Asseo
--Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Jodi Schneider
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