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I want to start just by noting that since the time that this committee met last September, Iraq has taken a number of noteworthy diplomatic strides. I visited Iraq last March, and at that time, there was great division. Parties within Iraq were not talking to each other; there’d been a two-year hiatus in meetings. Since then, a host of progress has been made. First of all, Iraq has settled a number of difficult issues with Kuwait stemming from the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq has dramatically improved relations with Jordan. It has improved its relations with Turkey. In addition, it has also begun to stabilize broader relationships in the region, and we welcome Foreign Minister Zebari’s plan to meet with Foreign Minister Davutoglu of Turkey in the very near future in order to discuss issues of mutual interest.
We also welcome the fact that they have renewed relations with Kuwait and are currently paying very serious amounts of money as a matter of settling the claims from 1991. So there are significant things that are being achieved. We also welcome the internal political process that Iraq has made over the last months. But they – nobody should make any mistake, and we haven’t this morning. We know there are very significant challenges that still remain, and we must face them together.
Iraq sits at the intersection of regional currents of increasingly turbulent, violent, and unpredictable actions. Sunni and Shia extremists on both sides of the sectarian divide throughout the region have an ability to be able to threaten Iraq’s stability if they’re not checked. And al-Qaida, as we have seen, has launched a horrific series of assaults on innocent Iraqis, even taking credit for the deplorable bombings this past weekend that targeted families that were celebrating the Eid holiday. And this al-Qaida network, we know, stretches well beyond Iraq’s borders. With many al-Qaida leaders now operating in Syria, we all need to accelerate our work in order to set the conditions for a diplomatic settlement to the Syrian crisis. Iraq was in Geneva at the first meeting of Geneva, and the Foreign Minister himself made significant contributions to that process. I know that Iraqis support the vision of a stable and peaceful Syria, and we look forward to discussing how we can work to make that a reality.
We hope also to discuss this morning the issue of weapons flowing from the Syrian conflict into Iraq for use against Iraqis or weapons flowing through Iraq and going into Syria. It’s a two-way street and it’s a dangerous street. There has been some progress in this area since my visit to Iraq in March, but Foreign Minister Zardari – Zebari agrees there is very significant progress yet to be made.
So this morning, we will discuss the ongoing efforts of Iran and Hezbollah that are trying to fuel the dangerous conflict in the region from the other side. And we agreed that we cannot allow them to play on the sectarian divides that recruit young Iraqis to go fight in a foreign war, the same way that we cannot allow al-Qaida and other extremists to recruit young men from Iraq and elsewhere to join into their twisted version of jihad. So we are committed to helping Iraq to withstand these pressures and to bolster the moderate forces throughout the region.
Finally, I want to reiterate: Everyone at this table and all of the people who will share in this discussion this morning share a determination to succeed in overcoming the challenges that we face today despite their seriousness. The United States remains very committed to working together with the Iraqi Government to address regional challenges, and we welcome the steps that have been taken by the Iraqis to build a strong, democratic, and inclusive state. The Foreign Minister agrees with me that there is much that yet can be done internally in Iraq in order to meet some of those internal political challenges, and that progress cannot be made on security issues alone. There needs to be progress within Iraq on political issues, on economic issues, as well as on the larger constitutional issues that have been outstanding for too long. The Foreign Minister agrees that these are challenges we need to beat together.
Our common roadmap in this endeavor is the Strategic Framework Agreement, and that is what has brought us here today. So with this said, I again welcome the Iraqi delegation. We look forward to having a very constructive and successful conversation over the course of the morning and the day.
Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister, and welcome.
FOREIGN MINISTER ZEBARI: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I appreciate very much what you have said. And we are here with our delegation, in fact, to reaffirm our commitment to our Strategic Framework Agreement with you, also to start meeting on the Joint Coordination Committee on political and diplomatic relations, which is a subcommittee of this SFA.
We have together endured many challenges together, Mr. Secretary, and our mutual relationship have continued engagement of the United States. We’ve always emphasized the importance, the significance, of continued U.S. engagement, which is critical for the success of Iraq and the Iraqi people on our ongoing transformation to a stable, inclusive, democratic, and prosperous country in the heart of the Middle East.
In recent months, as we have seen – and in recent days, in fact – we have seen the new violence or terrorist attacks by al-Qaida more frequently, and it has cost many, many lives. But despite all these attacks, the Iraqi people have not succumbed, in fact, to these atrocities, and I’m here to inform you and the Administration that Iraq is not heading – is not crashing, and it’s not heading to civil or sectarian war. There is a clear determination by the Iraqi leadership that really we’ve been there before in 2007, 2008, we are not going to go there again, and a great deal of self-respect.
The key message here: We’ve come here to seek your help and support and security cooperation with the Iraqi Government, and in fact, in counterterrorism and to have the capacity building for our security forces to stand up to face to this increasing threat from the nexus of al-Qaida and Al-Nusrah Front, as a spillover coming over from Syria, let’s say, into Iraq. And we’ve worked before on these issues. We look forward to your continued support. Al-Qaida is not a local threat; it’s a global threat, as we’ve seen by the recent closures of so many of your diplomatic missions in the region and in North Africa.
Mr. Secretary, I would like to confirm that really Iraq is having an independent and neutral position vis-a-vis the Syrian crisis, and we have said all along we believe that a political solution is the most viable way forward for Syria. We kept our distance on both sides of the conflict, and Iraq has not provided arms, money, or oil to the Syrian regimes. We have kept equidistant with the opposition and with the regime in order to play a helpful role, but our position is difficult. We’ve taken your positions, your views on the overfly, definitely taken some steps but we will do more to make sure that Iraq is independent of its actions and there’s no influence whatsoever here and there.
No volunteers are going – no Iraqi volunteers are going to Syria with the consent of the Iraqi Government at all. I mean, any volunteers who are going may be encouraged by some militias, by some people who want to fuel the conflict and the violence. But believe me, this is not the government policy as such, and we live in a region that we cannot disassociate from what is going on in Syria.
And we’ve seen the terrible event and atrocities that happened yesterday in Egypt. We have ongoing demonstrations in cities in many parts of Iraq, and really they have been going on for the last eight months, and neither the government or even the demonstrators have reached such a level of violence.
So once again, we look forward to our meeting with you and your teams. And Mr. Secretary, I want to say that Iraq is a reliable and dependable ally and partner to the United States. Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you very much, Hoshyar, and we look forward to working with you on this, and we’ll work through these issues this morning --
FOREIGN MINISTER ZEBARI: Thank you, sir.
SECRETARY KERRY: -- and obviously for some time to come.
FOREIGN MINISTER ZEBARI: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, sir.
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