Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki publicly differed with President Barack Obama's call for Syria's Bashar al-Assad to step down Monday, saying he had no right to call for another leader's ouster.
Obama attributed the differences on Syria to "tactical disagreements" with Maliki and said he understood that the Iraqi leader's position on the Syrian president was motivated out of a sincere concern for Iraqi interests.
"I know that people must get their freedom and their will and democracy and equal citizenship. We are with these rights ... because we have achieved that ourselves," Maliki said at a joint press conference with Obama.
"But I do not have the right to ask a president to abdicate. We cannot give ourselves this right," said Maliki, adding that he hoped Syrians would achieve their aspirations without affecting Iraqi security.
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Obama said that both he and Maliki believed that "when the Syrian people are being killed or are unable to express themselves, that's a problem.
"There's no disagreement there," Obama said after the two men met at the White House to mark the final US withdrawal from Iraq this month.
"I expressed to Prime Minister Maliki my recognition that given Syria is on Iraq's borders -- Iraq is in a tough neighborhood -- that we will consult closely with them as we move forward.
"Even if there are tactical disagreements between Iraq and the United States at this point in how to deal with Syria, I have absolutely no doubt that these decisions are being made based on what Prime Minister Maliki believes is best for Iraq, not based on considerations of what Iran would like to see."
Iraq said last week it would try to convince Syria to accept an Arab peace deal and the deployment of a team to monitor the political situation in the country.
But Iraq has close trade ties with Syria and has refused to enforce the sweeping sanctions against Damascus approved by the Arab League on November 27 over the Syrian government's deadly protest crackdown.