"Negotiations are ongoing with the US side and the current attitude is to reach a memorandum of understanding either for immediate US forces withdrawal or timetable withdrawal," he said on Monday.

The memorandum "now on the table" includes a formula for the withdrawal of US troops, he said.

"The goal is to end the presence [of foreign troops]," al-Maliki said.

The prime minister offered few details, but his national security adviser, Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, told The Associated Press that the government was proposing a timetable contingent on Iraqi forces being able to provide security.

No 'hard date'

The Bush administration's response was muted, saying it was not negotiating for a "hard date" to withdraw its troops.

A deal is needed to keep US troops in Iraq after a UN mandate expires [AFP]

"Negotiations and discussions are ongoing every day," Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said on Tuesday in Japan, where George Bush, the US president, was attending the Group of Eight summit.

"It is important to understand that these are not talks on a hard date for a withdrawal."

Some type of agreement is needed to keep US troops in Iraq after a UN mandate expires at year's end.

But many Iraqi legislators have criticised the government's attempt to negotiate a formal status of forces agreement, worried that US demands would threaten the country's sovereignty.

Al-Maliki's latest comments could be aimed at trying to blunt opposition in parliament to any deal.

He could also be trying to avoid parliament altogether.

Although he promised in the past to submit a formal agreement with the US to the legislative body, his spokesman indicated on Monday that the government might feel no need to get approval from parliament for a shorter-term interim deal.

"It is up to the cabinet whether to approve it or sign on it, without going back to the parliament," Ali al-Dabbagh said.

Negotiating ploy

Just last month, facing growing internal Iraqi opposition, the prime minister had said the talks over the security deal were at a "dead end".

"We have reached a deadlock because, when we started these talks, we found that the US demands hugely infringe on the sovereignty of Iraq, and this we can never accept," he had said.

But his foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, admitted that statement was a negotiating ploy, and the talks have continued.

But negotiations have repeatedly stalled, with Iraq and the US seemingly unable to agree on a range of conditions.

One of the most contentious issues was a US demand for immunity for foreign security contractors.

Last week, Zebari claimed the US had agreed to drop the immunity demand, which would subject contractors to prosecution under Iraqi law.

The Bush administration had hoped to wrap up negotiations by the end of July, but has since backed off that deadline while still expressing confidence a deal can be reached.

Now with al-Maliki's latest push for a withdrawal timetable, which Bush rejects, neither country appears any closer to signing the deal.