Deputy Secretary Burns: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m very glad to be back in Baghdad. During my visit, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Maliki and other Iraqi leaders from across the political spectrum. I emphasized the strong and enduring commitment of the United States to a united, federal, and democratic Iraq, as defined in the Iraqi Constitution. This commitment is anchored in the Strategic Framework Agreement, a long-term pact that will continue to guide our relations for many years to come.
I also discussed the many challenges Iraq faces, both internally and in the region, and emphasized the significance of recent signs of progress. Iraq and Kuwait recently settled longstanding and extremely difficult issues stemming from the 1991 Gulf War. This was a multi-year effort, and a symbol of how persistent, determined diplomacy can pay off. Iraq is also helping to stabilize global energy markets with oil production rising to levels not seen in decades, and generating revenues for investment in infrastructure and education.
There are signs of progress internally, as well. We were concerned by the delay in elections in Anbar and Ninewa provinces, but pleased to see those elections finally take place earlier this month. We have also been encouraged by Prime Minister Maliki’s recent visit to Erbil, and the promise of President Masud Barzani to visit Baghdad in the coming weeks. Protests in Sunni areas have continued, but initial steps have also been taken to address legitimate grievances, and a package of laws is making its way through the legislative process here.
As I explained in my meetings, the United States is ready to help, wherever we can, to facilitate compromises on important laws and agreements. The Strategic Framework Agreement is unique in this regard, as it envisions an ongoing U.S. role to “support and strengthen Iraq’s democracy” and its democratic institutions. We take that role seriously, and Ambassador Beecroft and his team are working every day to help Iraqis find common ground on a host of complicated issues.
We also recognize the very serious challenges that remain. Terrorists continue to take innocent life, and the last few months have been especially difficult. Further attacks have taken place today, and I’d like to convey the condolences of the American government and the American people to the victims and their families. The car bombs and suicide attacks of terrorists are designed to spark sectarian strife and a return to the cyclical pattern of violence seen during the worst days of the war. I am encouraged, however, by the commitment of Iraq’s leaders -- and especially the Iraqi people -- not to let them succeed. I pledged ongoing American support to help Iraqi Security Forces uproot terrorist networks and ensure that they can never again establish a sanctuary here. Iraqi leaders also must continue to work together through the political process to deny extremist groups space to recruit and exploit the grievances of local communities. I was encouraged by their commitment to do so, and as they do, we will help.
Finally, the situation in Syria was an important topic of our discussions. I explained that the United States remains committed to a political transition in Syria, and how our efforts are designed to limit the role of extremists on all sides to shape Syria’s future. Iraq and the United States share a common goal in that regard: a democratic transition, with the end result being a country that respects the rights of all Syrians, whether Sunni, Shia, Christian, Druze, Allawite, or Kurd. To get to that result, the Asad regime must face the reality that a transition must begin. We hope and expect that Iraq will play a constructive role in helping to bring about that transition. As Iraqi leaders have acknowledged, sustained action is necessary to stop the flow of weapons to the regime and to curb the flow of fighters traveling to Syria. Iraq also has an increasingly important diplomatic role to play, which we also discussed today.
In sum, our efforts here remain vitally important and anchored by the Strategic Framework Agreement. Iraqis face no shortage of challenges in the months ahead, but there is also much promise in Iraq’s future. With wise leadership and vision, and steady partnership between our two countries, there is a great deal that we can accomplish together.
Thank you very much, and I will be glad to answer your questions.
Muhammed Itani from Iraqiya satellite TV station: After Iraq has exited Chapter VII and some changes that took place, would the U.S. exert additional efforts to strengthen the Iraqi-U.S. long-term relationship, and is the U.S. going to help Iraq resolve the remaining issues of the provisions of Chapter VII?
Deputy Secretary Burns: Thank you for the question. The step that Iraq and Kuwait took in recent days is a very important achievement for both leaderships and both countries. It reflects real statesmanship and diplomatic skill on the part of both governments. It’s a reminder of what can be accomplished with determination in a region which needs more good news like this. The U.S. is proud to have been able to play a role in supporting these efforts over a number of years, and you can be sure that the U.S. will continue to support the strengthening of relations between Iraq and Kuwait and also between Iraq and all of the Arab nations as we continue to support the reintegration of Iraq into the Arab world.
Question by Al-Hurra Reporter: After Iraq exited from Chapter VII, do you think more American investors and companies will come to invest here in Iraq, and as result of what happened two days ago, do you see an increase of investment in Iraq?
Deputy Secretary Burns: I think it offers further encouragement to American and other international companies who are looking at opportunities in Iraq. It is a further step toward a better future for Iraqis and a reminder of what’s possible in the future. For all the real problems and challenges, which all of you understand better than I do, Iraq’s economy is growing at a rate of 10 percent a year, and oil production is back up at a level we have not seen in three decades. There’s a great deal that is possible here. The last thing I would emphasize is that the SFA, which helps guide the relationship between our two countries, is not only about security and diplomatic issues, but also about creating an atmosphere in which we can encourage greater trade and investment. We will continue to do what we can to encourage greater investment.
Question by Ashur Satellite TV Station: Why did you choose this time to visit Iraq? With whom of the Iraqi officials did you meet?
Deputy Secretary Burns: I have had the benefit of visiting Iraq many times over the years -- in hard times and more promising times. I’m delighted to be able to visit today in the immediate aftermath of the important diplomatic achievement between Iraq and Kuwait. At a moment full of challenges -- not just for Iraq but also for the entire region, especially given what’s going on in Syria -- President Obama and Secretary Kerry felt it was especially important for the U.S. to reinforce our strong, enduring commitment to Iraq. That’s the message I stressed in my meeting with Prime Minister Maliki and that I will continue to stress in meetings with a range of other Iraqi political leaders while I’m here. Thank you very much.