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Q & A with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Q) What are the latest developments in the dossier of the sanctions on Iraq under the UN Charter’s Chapter 7 and have you made progress during your visit to New York and meetings with UN officials?

A) UNSC Resolution 1859 which it issued at the end of 2008 ended the mandate of the multinational forces and protected Iraqi assets partially from Chapter 7, which concerned the development fund. But the other paragraph concerns the binding practical clauses. One of the clauses that we negotiated at length was Iraq’s demand to review all the UN resolutions imposed on it under Chapter 7 on the basis that this review should be made in coordination and consultation between the Iraqi Government and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon so as to take stock of these resolutions and thus enable Iraq to get out of Chapter 7’s rules and restore its international and legal status in the world. We embarked on political, technical, and legal talks before few days with the UN secretary general and the secretariat general’s experts from the Iraqi desk and from all the concerned agencies and bodies. Our team was a complete technical and legal one. It became evident to us that our country is governed by 73 UN resolutions under Chapter 7 and this is a record number compared to the other countries in the world.

Q) What year do these resolutions date back to?

A) Since 1990 to this day. The task is massive and mighty. We are at the beginning of our work here and our aim is to restore Iraq’s sovereignty and freedom in full. Without getting rid of these resolutions, Iraq will not be fully independent and this is one of the central objectives of the government and ministry.

Q) Do you feel that you are getting close to this objective?

A) The secretary general will present his report to the UNSC next week. It will be a descriptive report on the actual situation but will not present clear and specific recommendations. What we did was to ask for the report to include some observations about the next stage. We do not want a report for its own sake. The other thing is that we asked that there should be results once the report has been distributed to the UNSC members and discussed over several weeks. The UNSC members ought to adopt it and turn it into a plan of action. This is what we have basically asked for from the Americans since they are a permanent member and pledged in the forces’ withdrawal agreement to help Iraq get out of Chapter 7. We also sensed an understanding primarily from France and Britain of this issue. We met the representatives of the UNSC’s 15 members and explained the Iraqi position.

We concluded that there is a very good intention in the UNSC concerning Iraq’s demands. The time has actually come for Iraq to be free from all these restrictions and sanctions imposed on it. People might not believe that the Iraqi health, agriculture, and higher education ministries are affected by the sanctions preventing the import of some commodities because of the sanctions system. An action plan is required to take stock of all the resolutions and annul the ones implemented by Iraq or have become defunct or outdated and also to implement what is left of Iraq’s obligations, especially the resolutions dealing with the case between Iraq and Kuwait. We also demanded a time frame for implementing our remaining obligations so as to get out of these resolutions. The process will not happen overnight and needs action, perseverance, and patience but we have started it. The process of Iraq’s exit from Chapter 7 has started. This issue is not dealt with through media statements. Some people who do not know the background to the issue interfere. This is a critical technical issue associated with international law. Many statements in Iraq are saying we are not responsible for the event and that (former Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein’s regime was responsible for these attacks and violations. But the UN resolutions do not personify any regime and deal with Iraq as a legal entity regardless of who governs it. In my view, we have achieved good and positive results and have now launched the process. It is a question of following up and implementing but it will take some time.

Q) What are the next steps?

A) After distribution of the report among the UNSC members, they will study it and hold consultations with each other after which they will consult with us. We will look at the resolutions after the stock-taking process, what had been implemented and what needs to be implemented or annulled. We might need several other resolutions from the UNSC to annul all these resolutions.

Q) What about the Kuwaiti stand on all these moves?

A) We met with Kuwait’s permanent representative to the UN and the Kuwaiti mission as a way of assuring, briefing, and summarizing that what the Iraqi delegation is doing is not a conspiracy against Kuwait’s interests or that is sidestepping the resolutions. Regarding the case with Kuwait, we said from the beginning and since the establishment of the new Iraq that the latter is complying with all the UN resolutions regardless of their circumstances, legality, and fairness. Therefore regarding the resolutions that concern Kuwait, including the question of borders, missing persons, possessions, and reparations, we have expressed several times that we are complying with them but the time has come to deal with them. We told the concerned parties about Iraq’s readiness to cooperate with the Kuwaiti side in these questions. Regarding the reparations, we asked for a reduction of the percentage, which is now 5 percent, (from Iraq’s oil revenues) and asked for reducing it further to 1 or 2 percent and to cancel it in future. The UNSC reduced this percentage in the past when it was 30 percent to 25 percent and then to 5 percent. The Kuwaiti side informed us that the decision was not in their hand but in the UNSC’s hand and it was up to the latter to decide whether to cancel or reduce them. We felt that everyone was demanding a boosting of mutual trust, the good-intentioned implementation of the remaining obligations, and continued consultations and visits between the two countries to deal with this issue simultaneously with the process of Iraq’s exit from Chapter 7’s resolutions.

Q) Did the Kuwaiti side inform you it would not object to reducing the percentage of reparations if the UNSC voted for it?

A) Yes. It is an international and UN resolution. We felt that the resolution belongs to the UNSC and Kuwait would understand and not object if the UNSC decided to do this.

Q) You said that there are 73 resolutions on Iraq under Chapter 7. What percentage of them can be annulled?

A) A very large percentage because these resolutions, or a large part of them, concern disarmament, weapons of mass destruction, the oil for food program, and Iraq’s international dealings, including weapons and dual-usage commodities. Parts of them concern the results of the war with Kuwait and others were issued after 2003. Therefore in my view, a very large percentage of these resolutions can be annulled or not needed anymore. From the UN secretary general’s report; I can say that more than 90 to 95 percent of them can be annulled. But some of them might need legislations from our side and this is possible. For example, we ended the inspectors’ mandates and the “UNMOVIC” which was like a sword hanging over our necks, and we also ended the oil for food program. But there are still some restrictions which can be liquidated. The resolutions are not important today other than the ones about the case between Iraq and Kuwait and we can implement the remaining ones.

Q) Regarding the case between Iraq and Kuwait, are the borders, reparations, and missing persons the basic issues?

A) Certainly. We have actually obligations and tried to implement a large part of them. Regarding the missing Kuwaitis, there are between 500 and 600. We cooperated and found the remains of more than 256 of them and returned them. It is possible to agree on establishing an Iraqi-Kuwaiti committee in Baghdad to search for the remaining ones and launch a media campaign for getting information about them. As to the Kuwaiti possessions, we returned what we could get back such the Kuwaiti media archives. We returned the Kuwaiti Central Bank’s archives before two weeks. All this was done through the foreign ministry’s efforts. As to the permanence of the borders markers, it is a basic issue and can be implemented as there are no disagreements over them. It is a technical and procedural matter. But all these things need time to build trust and are capable of being implemented. I reiterate – and I was eager to declare it in my statements and remarks – that Iraq’s exit from Chapter 7 will not be at the expense of Kuwait’s interests, security, sovereignty, and stability, absolutely not. On the contrary, Kuwait was one of the countries that cooperated with Iraq the most during the (regime) change and after it. Therefore their role is desired and appreciated.

Q) You met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington and raised with her the issue of helping Iraq get out of Chapter 7. How did she respond to this?

A) Her response was positive and she expressed support and sympathy. She also followed the effort made in New York and the results that were achieved. She pledged that the United States would definitely consult with the UN secretariat general, the UNSC, and the Iraqi Government and was ready to adopt this issue and act to turn this report into a clear action plan in fulfillment of the agreement to withdraw the (American) forces (from Iraq).

Q) What about the broader Iraqi-US relations?

A) The other issue we discussed and you will see is the arrival of the prime minister in Washington. The focus is on the implementation of the strategic framework agreement. This is a comprehensive one and includes all fields of cooperation, from energy to health, education, technology, agriculture, industry, and others. If implemented, this document would make many countries in the world envy Iraq for this broad range of cooperation. Therefore this issue will have priority during his Excellency the prime minister’s visit. Iraq’s relationship with the United States has changed, from a military and security one into a relationship between two countries that have common interests and are cooperating in these aspects.

Q) The focus will be on this agreement and its implementation during Prime Minister Al-Maliki’s visit?

A) Yes. There will be an announcement about the implementation of some steps about investments and the operation of some American companies that will start to invest in many fields in Iraq. These two issues, Iraq’s exit from Chapter 7 and implementation of the agreement, are the core of our discussions with officials here in addition to the overall political situation in Iraq. The next six months are going to be decisive ones. Iraq continues to face some security and economic challenges and we fear that some present problems might become crises. There is therefore a need to back this process of security and political improvement so that it does not backfire on the administration’s strategy of responsible withdrawal from Iraq.

Q) But the present administration is preoccupied with other dossiers like Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Do you fear it might not be paying attention to what is happening in Iraq?

A) It is true that the present administration is preoccupied with internal policies and other issues but its commitment to the success of Iraq and the Iraqi Government during the remaining sensitive period remains the same. The relationship has changed too much. The commitment in the past was different and it is there now but in a more official way and in a diplomatic context through diplomatic channels. The role of the US Embassy in Baghdad has also become broader while that of the army receded with the forces’ pullout from the cities. Implementation of the forces’ pullout is being done honestly. This administration is very eager to implement the agreement.

Q) But there are doubts about its implementation and the forces’ departure from Iraq after 2011. How do you assure the Iraqis?

A) The principle is the departure of all the forces by the end of 2011. The agreement is clear. This is the timetable. Any change should be at the Iraqi Government’s desire if it needs anything. But the government feels it is capable and we saw this from the Iraqi forces’ security action.

Q) The issue of Iraqi documents taken to the United States after 2003 was raised. Are you going to demand them during the prime minister’s visit to Washington?

A) The issue was raised by Iraqi judicial parties. The Iraqi documents are owned by the Iraqi state, like the stolen antiquities. It is our duty and task to retrieve all our documents, antiquities, and possessions in the world. Therefore the issue is being pursued through the legal channels.

Q) What are you hoping for from the prime minister’s visit?

A) It is very important during this visit to activate the relationship within the framework of the strategic frame. It is important for the Iraqi citizen to see thing. US support for Iraq’s exit from Chapter 7 is also very important. US investors’ entry into Iraq is very important. We raised with Secretary Clinton the issue of encouraging American investors to enter Iraq and pointed out that the US State Department’s advice against traveling to Iraq was inconsistent with this. She promised to review the issue.

Q) What is your opinion of having US Vice President Joe Biden in charge of the Iraqi dossier?

A) The vice president’s visit was to see the nature of the situations following the US forces’ pullout from the cities. It was therefore a political message that the United States is committed to its pledges. The message is: It is very important to achieve greater political progress than what exists now and to deal with the contentious issues through dialogue. The US commitment does exist but (Biden) said matters were in the Iraqis’ hands and they could not rely on the United States indefinitely. This is true and the same logic in which we believe. As to his appointment or engagement in this issue, it was not raised with us. But as the vice president who has been following this dossier, this shows the US administration’s commitment to Iraq and that it is of extreme importance for it.

Q) There was uproar about an American role in Iraqi reconciliation and Iraqi statements were issued supporting and opposing this. What is your position?

A) Reconciliation is truly an Iraqi matter. There is reconciliation at two levels. One is between the parties participating in the government, parliament, and political process. There are some tensions and contentious issues which need dialogue and treatment. The second level is the reconciliation between those participating in the political process and those outside it, whether gunmen or politicians. The government’s stand toward those practicing terrorism and killing is very clear. There is also a clear stand toward the Baath. If there are some parties which renounce violence and believe in the political process, then these can be absorbed and can contest the elections under these conditions. As a friend, the United States has a role in this issue and also an interest. We must be realistic. It has 130,000 troops in Iraq. But the leading role in this issue belongs to the Iraqi Government.

Q) US officials are pointing out increasingly to an Iraqi role in the region and the need for Iraq to restore its health so as to play it. What is meant by this?

A) We held talks here in Washington with Secretary Clinton and there was a detailed and technical session in depth with her deputy James Steinberg. There was a detailed discussion of Iraq’s role and status. Everyone is noticing that Iraq has indeed started to return to its position and its relations with the countries, the Arab and neighboring Islamic ones, in the region have started to improve. For example, we signed the strategic cooperation agreement with Egypt and the Iraqi prime minister will visit it soon. Everyone knows that Iraq’s regional role is important. The more stable Iraq becomes and the more its internal situation improves in terms of security and national unity the more will this role grow and thrive. The Americans’ intention is to assert that Iraq is restoring its health, its relations are being normalized daily, and visits are exchanged with neighboring countries. All this makes it incumbent on Iraq to restore its role in the region.