August 21, 2008

We Are Very Close to Finalizing US-Iraq Agreement – Hoshyar Zebari

Text of report by Iraqi government-controlled Al-Iraqiyah TV on 21 August

[Full text of joint news conference by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in Baghdad - live]

[Zebari; speaking in English, transcribed from English; in progress] - with the prime minister was positive. We are very close to finalize this important agreement for Iraq, the region, and the friendship and partnership of Iraq and the United States. Of course, again, I warmly welcome you, Secretary Rice. I hope that this will not be your last visit again and to see you again. But you are mostly welcome. So, thank you.

[Rice] Thank you. Thank you very much, minister. Thank you very much for hosting me here. We have indeed had very good and fruitful discussions, including about the significant progress that Iraq is making, and also the significant progress that you are making and reconnecting with your neighbours in very important ways. I want to congratulate you on the excellent visits of King Abdallah, of Foreign Minister Bin-Zayid of the UAE, and just yesterday of prime minister of Lebanon, Siniora.

Indeed, the programme that you, as foreign minister, have outlined for reconnecting Iraq with the region is very successful. Congratulations on that. We have had very good discussions on a number of other issues, including the strategic framework agreement. It is an important agreement to allow Iraq and the United States to continue the cooperation that we have begun to lay a foundation for future [superimposed Arabic translation begins; translated from Arabic] and ensure that the important gains that this country made in the past years are solidified. Thank you for your hard work. I had a good meeting with the prime minister and other leaders. I am looking forward to finalizing the agreement. Thank you.

[Journalist] Madam Secretary, my question to you is on the immunity issue. Does the United States of America agree that its military troops be tried in Iraqi courts or is it out of question? As for my question to the Iraqi foreign minister, it seems that you have a very short time to finalize this agreement, especially since you have to present it to the parliament and other bodies and [the month of] Ramadan is coming. What will you do if you could not finalize the agreement on 21 September?

[Rice] first of all, I will not talk about the details of the agreement. It is obvious that this is not appropriate at present. We are working together as partners to make sure that we are taking into consideration the interests and concerns of the two sides with regard to the issue of sovereignty. As for the Iraqi government, nobody is happier for the presence of a sovereign Iraqi government than the United States. We will do our best to ensure that this agreement will respect the Iraqi sovereignty. We will make sure that all arrangements move forward. There are a number of agreements between us [and other countries] in the world. We do not tell people how to negotiate on the presence of troops. Therefore, the agreement will be in line with these principles.

[Zebari] In response to your question about what we have accomplished, this agreement is so far the most advanced version of any strategic agreement between the United States and any other country in the world. The American negotiators showed a great deal of flexibility and understanding. This issue, as you know, is a sensitive issue that deals with sovereignty, Iraqi interests, and stability in the region. That is why it took a long time. We hoped that we would be able to finalize the agreement earlier, but, because of internal policies and certain dynamics, we took more time than we expected. As I said before, we are very close to finalizing this agreement, which will be in the interest of the Iraqi people and the region.

Right form the beginning, we said that there are no hidden or secret agendas. Everything will be presented to the representatives of the Iraqi people, who will examine and study the agreement. We are moving to present the draft to the executive council, which is an important body, in order to hear what they have to say about what the negotiators did and achieved. I agree with you that time is important, but we are doubling our efforts to finalize the agreement in a successful manner.

[Unidentified journalist, speaking in Arabic] Are there any pressures from Iran to delay the signing of this agreement?

[Zebari, speaking in Arabic] This is a sovereign decision; it is a decision made by the elected and constitutional Iraqi Government. Iran and the neighbouring countries have the right to ask for clarification on many issues, but there are very clear paragraphs in this agreement indicating that Iraq will not be used as a base for attacks or aggression against any neighbouring country. We conveyed this opinion to the Iranian officials in a frank and clear manner.

[Unidentified journalist, speaking in English; superimposed Arabic translation continues, translated from Arabic] There are reports out today saying that you agreed on a timetable for the withdrawal of troops that includes some provisions on the number of troops to be withdrawn or remain depending on the Iraqi needs. What can you tell us in this regard and what is your position towards it?"

[Rice] We have also been saying that the roles, missions, and the size of the US and coalitions forces are governed by conditions set on the ground and on what is needed. We have agreed that there are some goals and timetables, which should be included in this agreement; we are looking forward to achieving. It is clear that the US and coalition forces are present here upon an invitation from the Iraqi Government, which enjoys sovereignty. What we have been trying to do is to prepare an agreement that would provide protection to our soldiers and respect the Iraqi sovereignty, an agreement that would allow us to lay a cornerstone to ensure that we have finished the work for which we have all sacrificed to achieve. However, the goal is that there should be Iraqi forces responsible for the security of Iraq. This is the goal and this has been the goal since the beginning. I have to say, if I may, that the reason for discussing such an agreement under the current circumstances is because we were successful in increasing in the number of forces, and because the Iraqi forces proved that they are strong and they are getting stronger more and more. We are achieving progress together in defeating the various enemies of Iraq, and we are looking forward to achieving an agreement and creating a situation in which we can learn about our needs for the future with regard to the roles, responsibilities, and the number of forces. However, this is a great starting point. This is the success we have achieved. We are not talking here about an agreement for the sake of escaping a bad situation; we are talking about an agreement that will lay solid and firm foundations. We are building on the successes we have achieved together over the past years and this hands more responsibilities over to the Iraqi forces. There are governorates where the Iraqi forces have full control there. There will be more of these governorates. So, this agreement is based on success.

[Zebari] I would like to add that the agreement specifies the main regulations and the requirements for organizing the temporary presence of and the timetable for the mission of the US forces. This is the outline of the agreement. Then, we are talking about a timetable. This is a sign of confidence in the Iraqi military and security forces. This indicates that they are capable of assuming more and more responsibilities and highlights their high professionalism in combating terrorism and dealing with the internal threats. Since the final draft of the agreement has not been signed thus far, I will not be able to give you any specific dates. However, yes, we have indeed discussed and held negotiations over setting a timetable that concerns us and concerns the US forces.

[Journalist] There are many political forces that objected to this agreement. What would happen if this agreement is referred to the Council of Representatives, which in turn decides to introduce some amendments to it? Would the US side approve these amendments, or is it going to be drafted once again?

[Rice] Well, I cannot speculate here. I believe it is a good agreement and we know that the Iraqi Government still needs to review this agreement. We are waiting for the results of this review process and we are waiting for the decision of the Council of Representatives. However, I will not speculate about the future. We believe that this agreement is good. As Hoshyar said, the United States has made great strides in drafting this agreement, which stands as a highly developed settlement that includes the provisions of the strategic agreement. This is a different relation and these are different circumstances. We want this agreement to reflect what we need. The United States and also Iraq have shown great flexibility. This will be an excellent agreement when we reach an agreement on it. I would like to affirm that there will be an agreement. This agreement will be achieved when we agree on it. Maybe we should not pay attention to the rumours in the newspapers about the content of the agreement and wait until we see the final agreement. Thank you very much.

Originally published by Al-Iraqiyah TV, Baghdad, in Arabic 1235 21 Aug 08.

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