Text of report by Saudi-owned leading pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat website on 9 January
[Interview with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, by Sawsan Abu-Husayn, place not given: "Iraqi Foreign Minister: Settling the Dossiers with Kuwait Is a Priority; Iraq Will Become Stable by Returning to Its Arab Environment"]
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has praised the Arab role and presence in Iraq. Zebari points out the importance of convening the Arab summit on its scheduled date in March 2011.
In an exclusive interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Zebari stresses that the Arab countries have gone beyond the stage of "wait and see" after the end of the political crisis and the formation of the government, and now there is more support for Iraq. He describes the visit by the Arab League secretary general at this stage as "important."
Zebari says: During the next few days, Baghdad will nominate the ministers of defence, interior, and public security, whose positions have been kept vacant. Zebari points out that deciding the portfolios of these ministries requires understanding and controls, the most important of which is efficiency, non-politicization, and managing the security dossier that concerns the lives of the citizens.
Zebari refers to the controversy over the National Council for Strategic Policies, which will be chaired by Iyad Allawi, stressing that it is impossible to have a "government with two heads," or with duplicate missions. He points out that the powers of this council will not be procedural or executive, but they also will not be merely advisory. Zebari points out that Allawi is convinced of the importance of partnership, and of establishing the council on clear bases.
Zebari rejects the claims circulating about Kurdish demands for secession from Iraq, and points out that what has been attributed to President Mas’ud Barzani in the media is not accurate; he says: "There were errors in translation. Barzani said: The Kurds as a nation of some 30 million people across the world, have the right to self-determination; however, the Kurds in Iraq have decided to live in the united democratic federal Iraq."
The following is the text of the interview:
[Abu-Husayn] What are the expected results of the visit by Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa to Iraq?
[Zebari] The visit is important. It comes at a pivotal stage, especially after the formation of the Iraqi Government. The fundamental aim of the visit is to congratulate the new government and the leaders for making the language of reason, logic, and national interests prevail over the language of personal interests. Iraq has succeeded in this test after nine months of political crisis and disputes there is a positive result, and Iraq has given the entire world the message that no one has resorted to violence and carrying weapons to resolve the disputes of forming the government, as consensus has been reached after dialogue, understanding, and concessions from all. The greatest winner has been the Iraqi people, and not this-or-that country; it is not Iran, the United States, Syria, or Turkey. The solution is an Iraqi one that has been reached after long negotiations.
Therefore, I consider that the visit by the secretary general is very important, especially as the Arab League has communicated with Iraq, and with all the governments, and has given huge help. I remember two conferences that were held at the Arab League headquarters; they were the accord and reconciliation conferences. They had a great impact during the stage of violence and division. The messages that emanated from these two conferences were important, so were the resolutions issued by all the Arab summits. During the Arab League ministerial meetings, the secretary general and the General Secretariat have always stood by Iraq. This is a testimony for the sake of God and history; everybody has been on the side of stability and reconciliations, and of an effective Iraq in the Arab environment.
Also the visit acquires importance because it is related to the efforts exerted by the Iraqi Government to host the Arab summit in March 2011. We will cooperate with the Arab League and offer everything required. Also we will inform the secretary general about all the details of the political, security, technical, and logistical processes. We are optimistic that the summit will convene on the scheduled date. There are the efforts exerted by all the governments of the countries concerned, which work with the help of the entire Iraqi people to host this great Arab festivity. The secretary general also will listen to all the Iraqi leaders about the developments of the situation and stability in Iraq, as well as the extent of the achieved national partnership, and what is required at the Arab level to consolidate these efforts.
[Abu-Husayn] What is your assessment of the Arab role in Iraq? What does Iraq want at this stage?
[Zebari] An important development has occurred in the Arab role. After the formation of the government, the first Arab and international official to visit Iraq was the Egyptian foreign minister, my friend Minister Ahmad Abu-al-Ghayt. After that there was the visit by the Jordanian prime minister accompanied by half the ministers of the Jordanian Government. There is an expected visit by the Kuwaiti prime minister, another by the Syrian prime minister, also by the brethren from the UAE, and after two days there will be a visit by the Turkish foreign minister. This on the one hand; on the other hand, currently two countries have nominated their ambassadors to Iraq; they are Yemen and Sudan, and the Yemeni ambassador has arrived already. We have a Libyan delegation that has come to discuss the issue of reopening the embassy, and we have given them all facilities. We have pledges from fraternal Arab countries in North Africa to reopen their embassies. We have a number of representing ambassadors from Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the UAE. Therefore, the issue of the Arab countries opening up to the new Iraq is a mutual need on both sides.
[Abu-Husayn] Do you consider the convening of the Arab summit as a new stage in the Arab support for Iraq?
[Zebari] Certainly; this is because Iraq and its stability are considered among the challenges facing the entire Arab policies. Iraq is a central member of the region, and of the area; therefore, the stability of Iraq, and the restoration of its vitality after all this suffering require continuous Arab support, understanding of its circumstances, and positive interaction with it. I believe that the majority of the Arab countries have gone beyond the stage of wait and see, which was due to what was happening in Iraq, but after the formation of the government there are decisions to give more support for Iraq.
[Abu-Husayn] As Iraq’s foreign minister, what are your priorities at the current stage?
[Zebari] Security is first, and then cooperation with all the neighbouring countries. The second priority is related to the stage after Iraq overtakes the international resolutions. There were more than 73 UN binding resolutions under Chapter 7, which is a record. We have put an end to these resolutions about the weapons of mass destruction, disarmament, the oil-for-food programme, and the freezing of funds. This was achieved after efforts and legal work. The second priority after security is putting an end to the resolutions related to the situation between Iraq and Kuwait, and turning a new leaf. Yesterday we had an extensive Kuwaiti media delegation consisting of some 40 chief editors and representatives from all the satellite channels. The dialogue with them was extremely positive after they inspected some of the positions and regions in Iraq. At the same time, we give the same attention to the relations with Kuwait. I imagine that there are good intentions on both sides, and we are looking forward to an important visit by the Kuwaiti prime minister.
At this stage, we also are interested in the flow of investments into Iraq, in the economic and trade relations, and in the work of companies in the fields of oil, reconstruction, and rehabilitation. Recently, Egypt contracted a good agreement represented by an important presence in the energy, electricity, roads, construction, and water sectors. We encourage this.
Also convening the Arab summit on Iraqi territories is a priority for us; all the government and diplomatic efforts focus on convening the summit and making it succeed. I imagine that this will be a major transformation.
[Abu-Husayn] What about the relations with the United States and the west at this stage?
[Zebari] We have an agreement on cooperation and partnership with the European Union, which we will sign soon. The relations with the United States are excellent; we are committed to the security agreement, and the Strategic Framework Agreement between the two countries; and there is cooperation in all fields. We have good diplomatic representation at the international level, and there are some 86 diplomatic missions. We can say that Iraq has started to regain its natural legal status, i.e. the one that preceded the imposing of the sanctions, and the overcoming of the Chapter 7 resolutions has helped us a great deal in dealing in an equal and independent way.
[Abu-Husayn] If we talk about the domestic situation, and filling the vacant portfolios in the government, what is new in this respect?
[Zebari] The government practically is formed. The most important thing in the government, and in the Iraqi political system and Constitution is the agreement on the three presidencies, i.e. the president, the prime minister, and the speaker of parliament. The Council of Ministers has started to convene its meetings, and the ministers are working; what remains is to decide the portfolios of the interior, defence, and national security ministers. This needs reaching an understanding on the selection of ministers, because the idea and the principle require the existence of controls and criteria for those who occupy these posts; the most important of these criteria are efficiency, non-politicization, and managing the security dossier, which is related to the lives of the citizens. In my opinion, soon, perhaps within a week or 10 days, the names of those who will occupy the three ministerial positions -defence, interior, and public security ministers -will be announced. Thus, it can be said that the issue of the government has been concluded with the participation of all the fundamental political blocs.
[Abu-Husayn] What about the position to be occupied by Iyad Allawi? Have the duties been determined?
[Zebari] The National Council for Strategic Policies is considered an important body. There was a dispute over the powers of this council, whether they will be executive or advisory. It is necessary to legislate for this council by a law, as it is a new body that does not exist in the Constitution. Therefore a draft law about it was submitted to Parliament. In my opinion, there can be no "government with two heads," or with duplicate missions. To be frank, this council will not have direct executive procedural powers, but also it will not be merely an advisory council to express opinions and give advice. This is because the membership of this council consists of the three presidencies, the fundamental leaders in Iraq, and the sovereignty ministries, which are considered the nucleus of the government, When all these members agree on a policy or a programme, it will be difficult for the government to oppose what is decided, especially as all the leaders and presidencies have extensions in the government and in parliament.
[Abu-Husayn] Does this mean that the decisions issued by the council will be taken into consideration?
[Zebari] It will be given great attention, and it will be impossible for the government to reject it, especially in the fundamental and destiny issues. For instance among the issues studied by this council are: important laws submitted to parliament, and pending issues, including issues related to the province [Kurdistan], the oil and gas law, the real national partnership, and the relations and the situation between Iraq and Kuwait, which need an unified stance, a clear and explicit opinion, and a political decision. There also are other important issues related to the relations with other countries, such as Iran, and the issue of the borders and reparations.
In my opinion, Mr Iyad Allawi has become convinced of the importance of partnership, and the establishment of this council on clear bases. The council will be formed soon, there are continuous talks with the prime minister, and there are no problems whatsoever.
[Abu-Husayn] Talking about the relations with Kurdistan Province, recently voices have been raised calling for self-determination for the Kurds. Does this mean a desire to secede?
[Zebari] What President Mas’ud Barzani has said was not as it was announced in the media organs. There were errors in translation. Barzani said: The Kurds as a nation of some 30 million people across the world, have the right to self-determination; however, the Kurds in Iraq have decided to live in the united democratic federal Iraq.
[Abu-Husayn] What about the results of the visit by the Iranian foreign minister to Iraq?
[Zebari] First of all, the visit came within the framework of offering congratulations to the new Iraqi Government. By the way, the Iranian foreign minister was born in Karbala in Iraq, and he speaks Arabic fluently with Iraqi and Lebanese accents. There was an opportunity to discuss a number of issues, and to prepare for the work of the higher committee, which will convene soon. There is a higher committee for demarcating the land and river borders, especially after the conclusion of the work of the technical committee, which currently is convening. We consider this committee to be very important with regard to the issue of fixing the border posts along 1,300 km of borders. We would like to conclude this issue, because there are interference, violations, transgressions, a dispute over the joint oilfields, and a dispute over the course of Shat-al-Arab River. Despite all this, Iran is cooperating with us in order to conclude all these issues.
We have another issue with Iran, it is related to the visits by the Iranians to the sacred shrines. This is an extremely important issue at the security and economic levels. We will organize this issue through agreements that will control it.
In addition to these issues, we discussed the US presence, because Iran has a clear and explicit stance towards this issue. We have said to them that this presence will end with the end of this year, and that this presence is controlled by declared agreements between the two countries. In my turn, I asked the Iranian foreign minister to support the stability and the government in Iraq, and not to interfere. These are the basic issues, which we always discuss with the Iranian side.
[Abu Husayn] What about the issue of the Iranian opposition Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization [MKO]?
[Zebari] I have explained that the Iraqi Constitution includes a clear and explicit paragraph according to which no foreign armed group is allowed to operate on Iraqi territories, or to launch attacks on neighbouring countries. Therefore the MKO attacks were taking place during the era of the previous regime. We have stressed that this is no longer allowed. However, we have humanitarian commitments to the MKO members in Ashraf Camp, but we do not allow any transgressions so that they become a state within the state, and their presence is subject to controls and laws.
[Abu-Husayn] Iran criticizes the US presence in Iraq, and some people talk about US-Iranian competition over Iraq. What is your opinion of the current Iranian presence in Iraq?
[Zebari] The fact is the Iranian presence exists, and also the Iranian influence exists. To be precise, this is different from the past, because this presence is confined to the embassy and consulates channel, the common interests, the trade between the two countries, the exchange of visits, the identical religious school of thinking, the religious leaders, and the religious authorities. All these exist, but within a specific framework. Naturally we stress to them all the time that the relations ought to be through the official government channels, i.e. relations between one state and another.
[Abu-Husayn] At what level will Iraq participate in the Arab economic summit?
[Zebari] Iraq will participate strongly, as it participated in the first summit in Kuwait. We will support the Arab project for economic development. It is in the interest of all to focus on the economic and social issues.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, translated by BBC Monitoring Middle East