So this is, I think, round three today at the State Department briefing. But delighted – one of the things we have hoped to do is when we have some of our key leaders from around the world in town that we’ll find ways to bring them to you as we can.
Ambassador Chris Hill is one of our most seasoned diplomats, and as you know, he is now the U.S. ambassador in Iraq. He is here for consultations this week, and we thought it would be a good time to have him kind of update you on the current situation in Iraq. And I’m always delighted to welcome Chris because, among other things, he’s one of the State Department’s finest Red Sox fans. AMBASSADOR HILL:
Thanks a lot. It’s a pleasure to be here and not talking about North Korea. (Laughter.) That was a preemptive strike. But I’m back for a few days of consultations and some personal travel, and I will be getting back to Baghdad next week.
Obviously, this is an important month because we’re getting to the – one of the major milestones of the security agreement that is the out-of-the-city milestone where our combat forces will be out of the remaining urban areas in Iraq. It’s an important moment because some – because as we go forward with the security agreement, we will also be moving ahead on something called the Strategic Framework Agreement, and this is an agreement which will really govern our relationship for, we hope, decades to come, that will involve our educational exchanges, economic relations, various political exchanges, things that we work on internationally.
So we want to make this Strategic Framework Agreement really the essence of the relationship, and to get to that we need to get through the remaining elements of the security agreement, and certainly the one dealing with – the provision dealing with our combat forces out of the urban areas is obviously a key element of it.
(Inaudible) – Libby.QUESTION:
I have a question about Iran, actually. Your predecessor met with the Iranians several times about issues specifically related to Iraq. What do you anticipate your role being with the Iranians as far as your post now in Iraq?AMBASSADOR HILL:
It’s hard to say. Frankly, the issue hasn’t come up as of now. I’ve only been there a couple of months. Iran has a great interest in Iraq. We certainly feel their interest in Iraq. They’re a historical neighbor of Iraq and obviously those two countries will have a relationship going forward. And as I said at my confirmation hearing, I think it would be best if Iran did all it could do to respect the sovereignty of its neighbor.QUESTION:
Has there been a change in Iranian activity in the last few days following the elections and the tension – AMBASSADOR HILL:
With respect to Iraq? QUESTION:
Not to my knowledge. QUESTION:
Is Syria being more helpful in terms of Iraq? Have you noticed a change?AMBASSADOR HILL:
I think, you know, obviously it’s – this is – Syria’s relationship with Iraq has gone through some ups and downs in recent years. Obviously, we are interested in Syria and Iraq having a better relationship. We are – we have addressed that issue with the Iraqis and we will continue to do so and see if we can be helpful. And as the Iraqi Prime Minister said to me, we’ll try to coordinate what we’re doing with Syria. But making Iraq have a better relationship with its neighbors is a key element of what we’re trying to do in that country. QUESTION:
Have you noticed fewer foreign fighters, though, crossing over from Syria?AMBASSADOR HILL:
Well, I can’t really gauge it in a matter of days or weeks. I think we have to take a broader view of what that is. QUESTION:
About the CENTCOM visit to Syria – AMBASSADOR HILL:
About the CENTCOM visit – AMBASSADOR HILL:
Yeah. I’m not in a position to discuss the CENTCOM visit -- QUESTION:
But your impression?AMBASSADOR HILL:
Well, again, I don’t want to – I’m not here to talk about Syria relations – we have other people to do that – except insofar as it relates to Iraq. And certainly, the Iraqis have welcomed our interest in a dialogue with Syria and have expressed an interest in making sure that we’re coordinated, and we are.QUESTION:
Can I ask you about the renewed violence over the last couple of months in Iran? It definitely seems a concerted effort -- QUESTION:
-- by the Sunni extremists to go after the Shia. They’ve been quiet so far – the Shia – not retaliating, but there is a huge concern that there would be – if there was like a major bombing like Najaf or something that there would be a huge renewed sectarian round of violence.AMBASSADOR HILL:
I think if you look at overall levels of violence in Iraq, you’ll see an overall trending downward. And this trending downward includes some of the events that took place in recent weeks. I must say, as someone who is new there and when I see a couple of rockets hit the green zone, those are a couple of rockets too many for my taste. But people who have had the benefit of more time there always tell me it’s nothing compared to last year. So when you see the aggregate numbers put together by the U.S. military, you see there is an overall trending down.
Now, the real question is whether some of these attacks – in one case, an attack on an Iranian tourist, actually – whether these attacks on obvious Shiite populations are ones that are going to be reciprocated. And certainly, you’ve seen some attacks on Sunnis. Whether it’s concerted or not, it’s obviously, in our view, an attempt to stimulate tensions. And we’re pleased to say that it has not had a desired effect.
The overall level of violence is – continues to be low. We don’t see any recreation of militia groups. There are still militia groups out there, but there’s certainly no growth in that pattern. Whether we continue to have this – these positive trends I think is hard to say, except that we work very hard to make sure that there is dialogue among the various political interlocutors in the country. We continue to do what we can to help people get together.
That is a country that’s gone through six years of very, very painful violence, where everybody has lost a loved one. And one never wants to predict when people are sick of this sort of thing, but since arriving there in the last couple of months, I do believe that people are trying to work their way through a political process. QUESTION:
But you don’t see – I mean, the violence is down, but the last kind of – couple of years of violence seemed to be more evidence from the insurgency and from al-Qaida-type – you know, al-Qaida in Iraq things. You don’t see a renewed level of sectarian tensions that gives you pause that there might be a --AMBASSADOR HILL:
No, I mean – no, we don’t, actually. What we do see are an anticipation of parliamentary elections which are now expected to be in January. We do see a lot of jockeying for political positions. We see Shiite parties reaching out to have a Sunni partner and to have a Kurdish partner. These sorts of things are actually healthy. So in general, what we see is a tendency to want to work with a political – within the political system. But I don’t want to sound Pollyannish about that because these are trends that are fragile and ones that need to be nurtured every day. QUESTION:
Can I ask you – your predecessor talked about this a lot, whether the violence in Iraq goes to the gains that you’ve seen over the past year are irreversible or not. And he would describe it as fragile, but reversible. Do you share that assessment? Do you think we’ve kind of gone over the hump on that?
And then on Mosul, where a lot of the more recent violence has been taking place, do you still think that U.S. troops will be able to pull out of Mosul on the 30th
without any problems? AMBASSADOR HILL:
Well, what I know is that we’re going to comply fully with our obligations under the security agreement. I think – we signed that agreement and we will absolutely comply fully with it, and that means pulling all combat forces out of the – out of the cities. And I think what’s important to understand is that in most cities in Iraq, our combat forces are already out of the city, so this is not some brand new model that we’re not sure how it’s going to work. But to some extent, we’ve left the best for last – that is Baghdad and Mosul.
I was up in Mosul a few weeks ago. And to be sure, it’s a city that has a lot of tension in it. To be sure, there are various groups, whether it’s the Kurdish population there or the Sunni or – and I want to emphasize this as well – Christian groups that are – that have concerns about what life will be like in the future.
Again, I think the way forward is through political dialogue. I met with members of the provincial council. I met with the Kurdish delegation that is continuing to boycott the provincial council. I met with the governor. I met with some others. And I think we just have to keep doing that. I mean, whether this is irreversible, I think to some extent, will depend on the people themselves, whether they’re prepared to continue to work at this. I have no doubt that Iraq is a better place for the fact there’s less violence, and I think that’s an insight most Iraqis get or have every day. QUESTION:
Does the U.S. have any contingency plan in case the violence escalates after withdrawal? AMBASSADOR HILL:
Well, again, I don’t want to discuss contingency plans. I’m not in charge of contingency plans with respect to security. What I am involved in is to make sure that we are complying with the security agreement. This is something that we want to do and must do, and it’s something that’s expected of us.
Egypt has just appointed an ambassador. Have you had any indications that Saudi Arabia might be ready to do this? AMBASSADOR HILL:
Not yet. Obviously, this step by the Egyptians to send an ambassador is most welcome, and look forward to being there to welcome him or her. I think it’s – we really want to see Iraq reattach to its neighbors, as my comments earlier on Syria would suggest. And so we believe it’s in everyone’s interest to be present in Iraq, present diplomatically. We believe it’s in everyone’s interest, whether they’re interested for economic purposes or for regional stability, and anyone with an interest in regional stability, anyone with an interest in Iraq’s sovereignty and development as a healthy democratic state should be there. QUESTION:
Do you have a sense of what’s holding the Saudis back or -- AMBASSADOR HILL:
Again, I don’t. You’ll have to ask someone who lives and works on Saudi Arabia.
(Inaudible) on President Obama, did he ask King Abdullah to send the -- AMBASSADOR HILL:
Again, I’m not in a position to comment on what went on between the President and President Abdullah -- King Abdullah. QUESTION:
Can you – I don’t know whether you’ve been to Kirkuk or not. This – any resolution or any advancement of the problem of solving Kirkuk, and also the oil revenue sharing?AMBASSADOR HILL:
Yeah. I think there has been some – there’s a lot of discussion within Iraq on oil revenue sharing, and – not so much revenue sharing, but overall exploitation of oil. I know the government in Baghdad has had renewed and, I think, positive discussions with the Kurdish regional authority on this matter. I think you saw some fruits of this just a few weeks ago when oil from Kurdish areas was exported out through the main pipeline and where the revenue sharing went according to the UN formula of 17 percent.
I know that the Iraqi Government is working very hard to see what can be done to boost oil production, and they are in touch directly with international oil companies on this. There has been a lot of discussion about where the so-called hydrocarbons law is. And if you ask various political leaders in Iraq, you get different answers as to the potential for getting this law through the parliament. Right now, I must say the discussion in the parliament is very much geared to getting an election law through so that parliamentary elections can take place as scheduled on January 16th
As we sit here now, how many U.S. troops are left in the cities, and specifically how many in Baghdad?AMBASSADOR HILL:
Again, I would ask that you direct that question to the Pentagon. There are roughly 135,000 U.S. troops in the country, but as for their particular deployment, I’d direct that to the Pentagon.
Sorry. Ambassador, could I just make sure I got that straight? When you were asked about the Syrian fighters coming into Iraq, have you actually seen a diminishing of that number, or is it not yet clear?AMBASSADOR HILL:
I think it’s too soon to gauge the numbers, except to assure you that we track this issue very closely. And compared to, say, a year ago, there is a substantial – there are fewer such people coming over. Now whether there are fewer coming over because they understand the consequence of unlawful crossing of the border is greater now than it might have been in the past, that’s hard to say. But the specific question had to do with the recent discussions with Syrian authorities and whether there’s a change of a flow at this point. And I think in that case, it’s a little too soon to say.QUESTION:
But that was just last weekend, right?AMBASSADOR HILL:
The discussions with Syria were just last week, yeah. So it’s obviously a little early to talk about it.
Yes, ma’am, and then I’ll go to you.QUESTION:
Thank you, sir. Recently, there’s been some discussion with Turkey that this might be the year that the PKK may give up arms and move into the political circle, or just give up violence, and U.S. is putting pressure on the Kurdish authorities as well as the central government. Can you clarify what is going on? Are you involved in the talks? Are you --AMBASSADOR HILL:
Again, I’m not in a position to discuss the – that process that you’re describing. I mean, this is really for our people who deal with Turkey. I will say that with respect to Iraq, Turkey is very active. Turkey has a number of economic projects underway in Iraq. They’ve been very much bolstering their relationship with Iraq.
And I know, having talked to Turkish visitors from Ankara, there’s a great deal of interest not only in the northern part of Iraq, but also in bolstering their relations with the Shiite part of the southern part of Iraq. So I see a Turkey that is increasingly interested in having a good relationship with Iraq, and we very much welcome this process.
President Obama’s speech in Cairo has produced a lot of new, renewed hopes for the Arabs of the region and for America in there – its policies in there. Today, can you reiterate for us and for the Arab audience that you are looking forward for the day when America leaves Iraq as one country, united and sovereign – I mean, united or not like what Vice President Biden in the past has looked for, a division of Iraq and into three – to three parts?AMBASSADOR HILL:
We are very interested in having a long-term and successful relationship with Iraq, and as our President laid out in a speech, we’re interested in a long-term and positive relationship with the entire region.
With respect to our relationship with Iraq, we understand – those of us who work on the issue understand that to have a long-term and successful relationship with Iraq, we have to be very respectful of Iraqi sovereignty. And so that is one of the real foundation points of that relationship. It’s reflected in the security agreement. It’s reflected in the strategic framework agreement which governs the non-security areas. So we are very respectful of Iraqi sovereignty. We’re very respectful of Iraqi territorial integrity, and respectful of Iraqi unity. And that’s been our policy and it’ll continue to be our policy. We will work very hard with Iraqi authorities – not to tell them what to do, but to express our views and to listen to their views. And I think it’s been especially – be important for a new ambassador to do a lot more listening than he does talking, and that’ll continue to be my role.QUESTION:
Thank you. QUESTION:
Iraq’s foreign ministry has requested the U.S. support move in the United Nations to get Iraq out from under Chapter 7, the UN Charter, and restore full sovereignty with no limitations remain from the past dictatorship and so forth. What’s the U.S. position on going ahead with that?AMBASSADOR HILL:
Well, the U.S., as you know, and the Security Council – there’s some, I think, eight or ten Security Council resolutions that deal with the so-called Chapter 7 issue. According to Article 25 of the security agreement, the one that deals with this issue of U.S. troops out of the cities, there’s an article, Article 25, that deals with the U.S. committing ourselves to assisting Iraq to get off Chapter 7. If you look at the Article 27, it refers specifically to our view that Iraq is no longer a regional threat to peace and security in the region. And on that basis, it’s our desire to help them get off Article 7.
Obviously, this also involves helping Iraq, as I mentioned before, work to have a better relationship with its neighbors. And we would like to see an Iraq-Kuwait relationship that continues to improve, and we will continue to be engaged in that.QUESTION:
Well, is the U.S. going to take any steps to actually do that in the Security Council?AMBASSADOR HILL:
We are working with – as we look to these reviews, we’re obviously in touch with our partners and we will see what steps we will take. Again, I don’t want to be stepping on the role that our people in New York play, Ambassador Rice and others. But we are – obviously, this is a time when we need to look at the review of the situation and make sure that we are complying with Article 25 of the security – of our security agreement with Iraq, but also working with our partners in the UN Security Council and also working with the UN Secretariat on this.
The Iraqi Government says that it’s forming a committee to assess some of its prisons in allegations of overcrowding and prisoner abuses. Being that there will be some prisoners being transferred from U.S. troops to Iraqi prisons, could you tell me what involvement the United States has, if any, in the assessment of Iraqi prisons in regards to some of these allegations?AMBASSADOR HILL:
Yeah. We have – first of all, we have made a commitment, and this is also part of our security agreement, to transfer detainees from U.S. custody to Iraqi custody. We are working very closely with the Iraqi prison authorities both in terms of training and helping them with the refurbishment of prison facilities. Indeed, we just opened up a new facility, or a newly renovated facility, just last Saturday. In addition, I met with the minister of justice on Sunday about the issue of the status of the prisons and of their capacity to not only to receive prisoners but also to have a judicial system that has throughput, that is, gets the prisoners out with a – through a legal process to determine guilt or innocence. So this is a very key element of what we call rule of law initiatives at the embassy, and we are very much engaged on it.
And the rule of law initiative, where we have a number of personnel from the Justice Department, actually several hundred personnel from the Justice Department, including some 21 professional lawyers there, and it was for that reason that just the other day, or just two days ago, I met with Attorney General Eric Holder to really thank him for all the work that the Justice Department has been doing precisely on this issue.QUESTION:
Would any member of the United States personnel be a member of that committee or it’s a cooperation?AMBASSADOR HILL:
One more question on Iran. Do you still have concerns about the Iranians supplying parts for IEDs and contributing negatively to the security environment in Iran? We heard a lot about that in the last administration. What’s the –AMBASSADOR HILL:
Yeah. I think, obviously the security situation in Iraq could benefit from less trans-border shipments of various weaponry or explosives, and I think that goes for Iran as well.QUESTION:
What’s the level of current trans-border shipments?AMBASSADOR HILL:
Again, I don’t want to characterize the level of it. I’d ask you to direct that to the Pentagon.MR. CROWLEY:
Just an indication of what we were talking about earlier, Chris’s next activity on his schedule is a phone call with Secretary Clinton, so we’ve got time for one more question.QUESTION:
On –AMBASSADOR HILL:
And I don’t know if Kim Jong-il is – (laughter).QUESTION:
We can talk about that at the next briefing. On corruption, I mean, that was also a big issue in the last administration. And now Maliki seems to have cracked down on corruption so much so that people believe – a lot of people inside Iraq are fearing that he’s using it as a kind of political intimidation. What is your (inaudible) on this situation?AMBASSADOR HILL:
Well, I think a lot of countries in Iraq’s state of economic development have so-called capacity problems. And one element of capacity problems is a corruption problem. I think it’s healthy that Iraqis are talking about this and trying to address it.
To the extent that there’s concern about it being abused, I think that goes to the question of whether there are proper procedures in terms of what they’re doing in law and order, whether indictments are well-founded, whether there’s an effort to make sure that warrants are properly executed, et cetera. I think it continues to be something that we watch very closely and are in very close contact with the Iraqi authorities about.QUESTION:
Thank you very much.