BAGHDAD (AFP) - The Iraqi cabinet on Tuesday authorised Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to negotiate changes in the security pact with Washington that sets a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the cabinet approved "necessary and essential changes" to be incorporated in the deal and authorised Maliki to present them to the American side. "Maliki is now in charge of presenting this new text to the American side," Environment Minister Nermeen Othman who attended the meeting along with her other colleagues told AFP. Dabbagh said the changes sought in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) were based on "opinions of the main political entities" and aimed at arriving at a deal that "preserves the sovereignty of Iraq and its national interests." The cabinet had last week decided to seek changes to the deal, the latest draft of which already stipulates that American forces will withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 2009 and from the country by December 2011. The new draft also offers powers to Iraqi authorities to prosecute American soldiers and civilians for "serious crimes" committed outside their bases and when off-duty. The White House said at the time that the agreement, which has been the subject of months of tough negotiations, was more or less done, and any amendments would be merely fine-tuning. But Baghdad warned that it would not be bullied into signing, despite US leaders warning of potentially dire consequences if it failed to approve the deal. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari later said Washington has agreed to listen to the requested changes. The deal has to be finalised before December 2008 when the present UN mandate that acts as the legal basis for the presence of American forces in Iraq expires. Several Iraqi leaders have opposed the pact, especially radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr whose supporters have regularly come out on the streets to protest. Meanwhile, the White House on Tuesday expressed strong resistance to amending a controversial US-Iraq security pact, saying "the bar will be high" for any changes to the accord. "We have not received any changes from the Iraqis. We think this is a good agreement, therefore the bar will be high," spokesman Gordon Johndroe said as the Baghdad government said it would submit several changes to the deal.