Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has revealed the details of the five-way ministerial meeting assigned with working out a memorandum to the leaders of the five countries to improve the administration of the joint Arab work and develop the Arab League, and to present a report to the next extraordinary Arab summit. In an interview with Asharq A-Awsat, Zebari said that “his country supports developing the Arab League’s charter, but with keeping the name of the Arab League. He said that the committee has entrusted the General Secretariat with preparing a memorandum to develop the Arab league’s charter.
Zebari also spoke about the preparations Iraq is making to host the Arab summit that will be held in March 2011 and about the required political and security atmospheres for convening the summit, in addition to the tasks of the new Iraqi Government, which he said would be formed soon from the alliances of the four lists that won in the recent elections.
He added that the new Iraqi Government will have an executive program to close the pending old files with the neighboring countries on several issues, with emphasis on his country’s commitment to the Arab and international resolutions in this respect. He said that the meeting of the custodian of the two holy mosques with Iraqi leaders is considered a strong message of Saudi support for Iraq, pointing out that the appointment of an ambassador for Iraq in Kuwait also emphasizes that Baghdad supports Kuwait’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity, and that Iraq is no longer having any illusions about the Kuwaiti land. He said that his country’s relations with Syria can be mended.
Following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the results of the five-way ministerial committee meetings, which convened to discuss the initiatives to improve the joint Arab action and develop the Arab League’s structure?
[Zebari] The five-way ministerial committee was formed at the Sirte summit on the basis of a resolution by the summit to review the joint Arab action and the structuring of the Arab League. Drafts were presented by Libya, Yemen, and the league’s secretary general dealing with the idea of an association with the Arabs’ neighboring countries. As for the two initiatives, they speak about changing the name of the Arab League to be the union of Arab states similar to the European Union and other groupings. The committee discussed these ideas and how to develop the process. The discussions that took place were serious and friendly, but Iraq was not supportive of the idea of changing the name of the Arab League because it is a historic name and the problem is not in the system, the charter, or the structure. We said that the failures of the Arab action was the result of the different Arab political wills, and that the league is unfairly blamed by us for everything, therefore, there has been an almost agreement in the opinions to keep the name of the Arab League as it is while modernizing and developing this organization and to present what the five-way committee reaches to the extraordinary Arab summit that will be held in Libya under the Libyan presidency next October.
We also discussed at the five-way ministerial meeting convening the Arab summit twice a year; one summit is periodical and the other is consultative without protocols and formalities and within the framework of improving the performance of the joint Arab action. The second point is the condition of the Arab ministerial councils whose work is related to the Economic and Social Council, which we consider the basis of the joint Arab action particularly in the economic, social, and cultural fields. An idea was presented that the prime ministers be in charge of this council. The third point was the charter, which means that the league’s General Secretariat works out a draft to review the charter’s articles and modernize some of these articles to cope with the new developments. We agreed to hold another meeting in Libya after the General Secretariat drafts the paper on amending the charter. I think that this meeting may be held late this month.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the future of the Council of Arab Security and Peace. Has the meeting discussed this issue?
[Zebari] We discussed ways of activating the Council of Arab Security and Peace through forming Arab peace keeping forces to which all Arab countries contribute. This is something possible that can be implemented but requires mechanisms. We also spoke about the Arab League’s budget that is no longer enough for the league and its establishments. In my assessment, the meeting was good and practical.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has Iraq presented proposals dealing with developing the structure of the Arab League?
[Zebari] We have presented a paper that includes practical proposals on this subject. Iraq is a founding member of the Arab League, therefore, it was eager to keep the name of this organization as it is; namely the Arab League, while modernizing and developing the other mechanisms. We also suggested intensifying the ministerial meetings and evaluating the performance of the league’s organizations in term of their effectiveness with emphasis on some organizations that offer service to the joint Arab action.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why was the final statement of the ministerial meeting on the Freedom Flotilla weak?
[Zebari] The decision was made by consensus. At first, there were voices calling for withdrawing the Arab peace plan, severing relations with Israel, and opening the crossings, but after long discussions, all agreed on this decision. I cannot say that the decision was very week, but it was with teeth when it called for breaking the siege, spoke about the peace plan that will be presented to the next summit, and the move by Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa with the Security Council to document the crime of piracy and legally prosecute Israel.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has the meeting dealt with the issue of convening the Arab summit in Iraq, particularly since the decision was to hold it under the presidency of Iraq and the venue was left for the progress in the security situation?
[Zebari] We discussed this issue at a bilateral meeting between the Iraqi delegation and a delegation of the General Secretariat and the secretary general, and we said that there was an Arab decision made by the Sirte summit that Iraq hosts the next summit in Baghdad. We have agreed to host and head the summit, and we started to work on this immediately after the Sirte summit. A ministerial committee was formed and headed by the foreign minister, and includes the ministers of interior, reconstruction, culture, tourism, and transportation, which means all concerned state establishments, in addition to the Baghdad Governorate and Municipality. The Council of Ministers two days ago allocated a sum of money, the first installment reached $100 million and the second reached $150 million to prepare the infrastructure such as a conferences hall and places of residence for the delegations. The most important thing for us is to ensure security and secure the arrival of the Arab leaders in Baghdad. In our assessment, this would be a very strong message from all Arab countries to the Iraqi people and the world that Iraq has strongly returned to its place and brothers. This is a reciprocal issue, which means that we have to ensure security and prepare fully for the summit and all requirements for convening the summit and all the security, political, and logistical circumstances. We should also contact all the Arab countries before the convening the summit to acquaint them with what we have done for convening the summit in Baghdad with good Arab participation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that the political atmosphere s are appropriate in light of the obstacles facing the formation of the government that may take a long time then it will sort out its papers, and there is also the issue of the Arab-Iraqi relations?
[Zebari] Enough time before the convening the summit, all these issues will be tackled and the Iraqi Government will be formed. The Federal Court approved the final results of the elections two days ago, and it is expected that the government will be formed by the four lists that won the elections. We think that the negotiation process and the serious alliances will begin from now on. Yes, we are late by three months, but our legal system allows us to form a consensus government within five months.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there clues about who will form the government?
[Zebari] Thus far, we can say that it will be formed of these four blocs and alliances. The balances of power have become clear after these elections.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] I am asking about who will form the government; is it Iyad Allawi or Nuri al-Maliki?
[Zebari] It is very difficult. There is opposition to the existing candidates by other blocs. Each side tries to enhance its position through alliances. The battle will be through the figures, I mean at least 163 votes for he who will form the government. However, the government should have a comfortable majority so that it can work and make laws.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about Iraq’s problems with Syria?
[Zebari] I do not hold Al-Maliki responsible for them because the government made some decisions in this respect and they were not personal decisions. I testify before God and at court that the decisions on how to deal with Syria were government’s decisions that were made by consensus and not unilaterally by Al-Maliki. These decisions are on the recalling of ambassadors, demanding to investigate into the explosions that took place, and asking Syria to expel the Baathist groups which are present on its territory.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the story about Syria’s pumping of water from the Tigris River?
[Zebari] This is media information, and it was reported that Syria wants to pump Tigris water to irrigate Syrian farming land on the basis of an agreement between Syria and Kuwait. Thus far, and according to our investigations, this has not been confirmed and we are studying the issue. The problem was in the financing. As it has been surfaced, the Kuwaiti Development Bank will contribute to this project. Thus far, we do not have documented information and we are going to investigate this subject.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you oppose Kuwait’s financing of this project?
[Zebari] Some countries had showed desire to finance a similar project for Turkey and we protested it and moved diplomatically and politically and stopped it because it harms our interests. These countries had understood our position.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is this a crisis fabricated by the Iraqi Government as Syria has announced?
[Zebari] We in the Foreign Ministry do not deal with media and press reports but with documented and confirmed information and through real official and diplomatic sources. It can be said that this issue with Syria has not reached the level of a crisis.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Then there is no problem with Syria particularly since we are speaking about atmospheres of convening the Arab summit in Iraq?
[Zebari] The problem in our relations with Syria is that the ambassadors are recalled although the meetings and visits are continuing.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Then when the ambassadors are going to return to Baghdad and Damascus?
[Zebari] This is the question. The recalling of the Iraqi ambassador and the Syrian ambassador was made against the backdrop of the tension that took place, and if things improve, the ambassadors can return.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How can they improve?
[Zebari] When the Syrian side makes some practical steps to restrict the activities of the Iraqi opposition Baathist groups which are present in Syria. My talk is clear, and I will not accuse Syria of anything.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you made contacts with Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem to mend relations?
[Zebari] Our contacts are continuous, but we need a political decision. In my view, all these issues will be decisively resolved after the formation of the next Iraqi Government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will there be something new in the policy of the new Iraqi Government concerning the file of the Arab-Iraqi relations?
[Zebari] All the files will be ready in front of the next Iraqi Government, and everything can be dealt with. We have a historic heritage concerning the issue of the demarcation of the Iraqi border with Iran, Shatt-al-Arab water, and the issue of the binding resolutions to demarcate the border between Iraq and Kuwait, the reparations and the Security Council resolutions, and the problem of water with Turkey that we are having.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] And with Saudi Arabia, what do you say?
[Zebari] As far as the diplomatic representation is concerned, thus far there is no ambassador or embassy. On our part, we have an Iraqi ambassador in Riyadh. However, recently the Saudi position has positively developed after the custodian of the two holy mosques received a number of Iraqi leaders. This has been a turning point, especially after receiving Ammar al-Hakim, Jalal Talabani, Masud Barzani, and Tariq al-Hashimi. This trend is very encouraging and is a strong Saudi message that Saudi Arabia wants to help Iraq. Therefore, the file of the Arab-Iraqi relations can in fact be tackled and immediately after forming the Iraqi Government, and there are no complications in this file at all.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that the idea of an association with the Arabs’ neighboring countries serves the relationship between Iraq and Iran positively?
[Zebari] We are one of the first countries that presented the plan for Arab-Iranian dialogue based on the relations the Arab League is having with the other countries and the dialogue forums it had with China, Turkey, Japan, and Latin America. The idea was developed at Sirte summit so that we have Arab-Iranian dialogue through an association with the geographic neighborhood in Africa and the Middle East. Iraq agrees to endorse this idea.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is Iran’s position in your assessment particularly since thus far, it has not practically commented on the ideas of the Arab-Iranian dialogue?
[Zebari] In my assessment, Iran will respond to the idea of an Arab-Iranian dialogue – a cultural, social, and political dialogue – We have an example on the importance of dealing with Iran in the position of Brazil, which is thousands of miles away, but it signed the agreement to swap the Iranian nuclear fuel. We ask: Why this has not been with a group of Arab countries?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have recently met with the representatives of the permanent member states of the Security Council to get Iraq out of Chapter 7. What are the results?
[Zebari] Iraq has made long strides on this subject since Iraq is governed by 73 binding international resolutions adopted by the Security Council under Chapter 7. During last year and some months of this year, we closed several of these files, including the file of disarmament and the weapons of mass destruction. We are working at present on the file of oil for food contracts that has not been settled, and this file will be closed soon. The same is the case between Iraq and Kuwait, and this requires a political decision by the next government. To emphasize our seriousness in dealing with the Kuwaiti neighbor, we recently sent an ambassador for Iraq to Kuwait for the first time in 20 years. This has a meaning and it is a message that we support the independence and sanctity and sovereignty of the land of Kuwait and the territorial integrity of Kuwait, and that Iraq no longer has illusions about the land of Kuwait. Therefore, there is a progress. But in my view, the next government, whatever its shape might be, has an open and clear program to carry out its international and Arab commitments.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the position on the departure of the Americans from Iraq?
[Zebari] The US focus is on an exit strategy, which was announced by US President Barack Obama. In the field, the US forces left the Green Zone and Baghdad, and the United States emphasizes that its commitment to support the stability of Iraq is continuing and that its political and strategic commitments will be implemented.