Interview With Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari

Interview With Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari
June 16th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Interview With Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari

Interview With Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari
June 15, 2008 Late Edition (CNN), 11:00 AM
WOLF BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. The Bush administration has been negotiating with the Iraqi government now, for some time, about an ongoing U.S. military presence in Iraq. But an agreement remains elusive right now.
Hoshyar Zebari is Iraq's foreign minister. He's been here in Washington. He's meeting with top administration officials, just came over here to "Late Edition" from a meeting with John McCain. He's going to be speaking on the phone with Barack Obama. Foreign Minister, thanks for coming in.
BLITZER: It's not easy to get involved in what's going on in the United States. You have to stay out of domestic American politics.
ZEBARI: We do need to stay away from American domestic politics, actually. This is an election season, and we are mindful, really, because the situation is very sensitive. We are not here to take positions. I think we respect the will of the American public. But, for us, it's very important to put both candidates in the true picture of what's going on...
BLITZER: All right. So who do you like better?
ZEBARI: No, I leave that judgment, let's say, for the American public, actually, to choose. I'm not going to...
BLITZER: John McCain says U.S. troops should remain in Iraq until victory has been achieved, a thriving, secure, Democratic Iraq. Barack Obama says the troops should start leaving, U.S. troops, over 16 months; there should be a withdrawal, if he's president. Because he says you need that, kind of, timeline in order to force the Iraqi government, your government, to do what you know you need to do.
ZEBARI: Yes. Wolf, I think Iraq would be a major issue in the campaign.
BLITZER: Here in the United States.
ZEBARI: In the United States -- I mean, as the campaign develops, toward November, I'm sure Iraq will come back to haunt both candidates. But I would say one thing, I think, that's my message to both Senator McCain and Senator Obama, who I have the chance to speak to him tomorrow, that, really, Iraq has gone a long way.
I mean, Iraq has been to hell many times and back. And now we have the right policies, the right personnel, and we have a committed government to accomplish its national agenda.
And the surge strategy has worked. I have just reported to the Security Council, a couple of days ago, that Iraq is witnessing the lowest level of violence and terrorist attacks...
BLITZER: So that would suggest that it is a moment, right now, an opportunity for the U.S. to start to withdraw troops?
ZEBARI: Well, those troops, those American units, actually, who came and participated in the surge strategy have already started...
BLITZER: Not all of them. There's still about 150,000 troops in Iraq.
ZEBARI: I know. But they've started to pull out, actually. And as we develop our security forces, our capabilities, definitely, we'll be less reliant on American support and military presence.
But this is a process. I think we are not there yet. I think both candidates have to look hard at the issues. Because Iraq is not an island; it's not isolated. It lives that heart of the Arab world and Islamic world.
BLITZER: So you want U.S. troops to stay?
ZEBARI: I think, for the time being, it's very important, you see, that we need this continued support of the U.S. forces, of the multi-national forces, because of the gains we have gained, both security, military, economic, are still vulnerable, and we need to capitalize on them, to make them durable.
BLITZER: Here's the issue on the agenda right now, this authorization for 150,000, which is the current number of U.S. troops in Iraq, to remain beyond the end of this year when the United Nations mandate ends.
There's negotiations under way between the Bush administration and your government on what's called a status of forces agreement, that would define the terms allowing the U.S. to maintain a significant military presence in Iraq.
What would be the terms?
Your prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said on Friday -- and I'm quoting, and I'll put it up on the screen -- "The Iraqi demands are unacceptable to the Americans and the American demands are unacceptable to the Iraqis, and the result is that we have reached an impasse. The Iraqis will not consent to an agreement that infringes their sovereignty."
BLITZER: Now, if there's a deadlock, there's not going to be an authorization for American troops to stay in Iraq beyond December 31st. What happens then?
ZEBARI: Wolf, before come coming to your show I spoke to Baghdad, to the prime minister office, just to clarify this issue. So I'm pleased to report to you, really, that statement has been corrected.
BLITZER: The prime minister's statement is no longer operable.
ZEBARI: I think it's been corrected and clarified. Let's say to the media that this negotiation, these talks are ongoing. They're not dead.
BLITZER: So you have not reached an impasse?
ZEBARI: Definitely. There hasn't been an impasse and there are options as the prime minister has explained to the Iraqi people and to the public opinion that this is ongoing and I'm a member of the negotiating team. So, I know what's going on. We made a great deal of progress on finalizing the strategic framework agreement.
BLITZER: One of the key issues, correct me if I'm wrong, foreign minister, is that you want American troops confined to their bases in Iraq and they can't leave without permission from the Iraqi government and the U.S. government, the Bush administration says that's not going to happen.
ZEBARI: In fact, clarify this issue, this strategic framework agreement would govern the relations between Iraq and the United States for a long term, as two strategic partners. A component of the strategic framework agreement is the status of forces agreement, the SOFA.
Here we have some difficult issues we need to resolve, issues of sovereignty, of immunities, of the authorization to launch military operations. But in all the areas, in fact, every negotiation is a difficult one. But in all these areas, there has been flexibility from the U.S. negotiating team. And they have offered some alternative proposal. That's why these talks are ongoing and it's promising. I'm confident that we will be able to secure the strategic framework agreement by the end of July.
BLITZER: By the end of July.
ZEBARI: By the end of July.
BLITZER: Because you know the Iranians, your neighbors next door, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was just in Tehran, he met with the President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We've all seen the pictures. The Iranians say this is a U.S. military occupation of Iraq and they don't want any U.S. troops to stay in Iraq.
ZEBARI: Wolf, this is a sovereign decision by the Iraqi elected legitimate government to make. Of course, Iran has certain concerns which we appreciate, we recognize. But in that agreement, we made it absolutely clear that Iraq will not be used for any offensive actions or for any attacks against any of Iraq's neighbors.
BLITZER: What if the U.S. has evidence, for example, that there are camps inside Iran training forces to go into Iraq and kill American troops. Would the U.S. be barred from sending warplanes from Iraqi bases over Iran to go after those bases?
ZEBARI: Wolf, here the U.S. military ability goes beyond Iraq, you see. I think if they have such intentions whatsoever, it has other alternatives.
BLITZER: So you say they get to fly from Turkey or from other bases in the region?
ZEBARI: I don't know, they have plenty of forces in the Mediterranean.
BLITZER: You understand how that sounds to an American audience, foreign minister.
ZEBARI: I know. But here with Iran, actually, our relations are difficult, not easy. But at the same time, we have always sought healthy relations between two sovereign nations and the prime minister in his recent visit was very clear with the Iranian leadership that we as an elected government, as a friendly government to you, we need to be supported by words and by needs at the same time.
BLITZER: One final question, we're out of time. How worried are you at Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric, is now saying he has got special forces ready to go to fight the Americans and to fight your forces as well and he's got a lot of support. How worried are you that this so-called civil war could return?
ZEBARI: Wolf, I think we've passed the civil war. We passed the sectarian war. We passed the fears of Iraq being divided also. These statements are unacceptable by Muqtada or whoever. And the government proved its seriousness actually when it phased Muqtada, the Mehdi Army, head on.
BLITZER: Are you going to wipe them out?
ZEBARI: And Sadr City and other places and now as we speak, their ongoing operation against some of the remnants of the Mehdi Army or the special groups and problems adjacent to the Iranian border. So, the government is really not compromising. Americans are there, they're our friends, they're sacrificing. So, therefore, whatever happens to them, actually, we should feel that pain. And this is unacceptable. The American are there with the consent and the approval of the Iraqi elected government and when the time comes, there will be no need for them to leave then. It's another story.
BLITZER: Hoshyar Zebari is the foreign minister of Iraq. Welcome to Washington. It's always a pleasure having you here.
ZEBARI: Always a pleasure.
BLITZER: You have a tough assignment, as we all know.
ZEBARI: Don't worry.
BLITZER: Good luck.
ZEBARI: Thank you.

Similar Topics
Secret Iraqi Deal Shows Problems In Arms Orders
U.S. Cites Planning Gaps In Iraqi Assault On Basra
In Mosul, New Test Of Rebuilt Iraqi Army
Saddam's Dangerous Friends
U.S. Commanders Advance Plan To Beef Up Training Of Iraqi Army