US Defense Secretary Gates: US Committed to Long-term Relationship with Kurdistan Regional Government

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US Defence Secretary said the principle purpose of his visit to Erbil, made at the behest of President Obama, was to reaffirm the US friendship with the KRG and the Kurdish people. Gates acknowledged that Kurdish cooperation is indispensable for the successful implementation of security and strategic framework agreements between the US and Iraq, and essential to securing a unified and peaceful Iraq.

President Barzani Welcoming Secretary Gates

We recognize the concerns that you have about the future of your people and we will help you to ensure a prosperous and peaceful Iraq. We will not abandon you. We believe improved relations with Baghdad will ensure that you achieve your goals in Iraq.

Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani received US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and several other officials from the US Defense Department and the US Embassy in Iraq today.

At the meeting, Secretary Gates opened his remarks by stating that the principle purpose of his visit to Erbil, made at the behest of President Obama, was to reaffirm the US friendship with the KRG and the Kurdish people. Gates acknowledged that Kurdish cooperation is indispensable for the successful implementation of security and strategic framework agreements between the US and Iraq, and essential to securing a unified and peaceful Iraq. He also underscored a message from President Obama and Vice President Biden that the United States is committed to a strategic friendship and partnership with Iraq and the KRG.

The Secretary said that: "We have made 3 commitments:
1. To use our influence to ensure that the outstanding disputes between the KRG and the Iraqi Government, including the Kirkuk dispute and other disputed areas and the sharing of oil revenues, are resolved based on the Iraqi Constitution and Article 140.

2. We will continue with our military efforts with the Peshmerga forces as well as with the Iraqi Army and security forces within the framework of our joint security architecture.

3. We will offer our support and assistance for a census to be conducted in Iraq next year."

Addressing Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani, Secretary Gates went on to say, "We recognize the concerns that you have about the future of your people and we will help you to ensure a prosperous and peaceful Iraq. We will not abandon you. We believe improved relations with Baghdad will ensure that you achieve your goals in Iraq."

The Secretary also said that during his visit to Iraq, he asked all sides to commit to Iraq's national unity when forming the next government, to avoid maximalist demands, and to show flexibility in their positions and policies. He conveyed a message to all sides to pursue a peaceful resolution to outstanding issues.

At the end of his remarks, Gates extended an official invitation to President Barzani on behalf of President Obama and the US Government to visit Washington.

After welcoming and thanking the US Secretary of Defense for his visit, President Barzani said:

"Your message represents the aspirations of our people, and this is the first time that the US President, Vice President and now you, Mr. Secretary, clearly reaffirm this message to us. Therefore on behalf of the people of Kurdistan and through you to the President and Vice President of the US, I reaffirm to you, and through you, to President Obama and Vice President Biden, that we will never be part of the problem, but continue to be a force for good in Iraq and part of the solution.

"We will do our best for a prosperous and peaceful, federal and democratic, Iraq. As a part of Iraq, we see it as our duty to protect the national unity of Iraq and when there's a problem, the Constitution must be our guide." President Barzani went on to say that there are crucial elections coming up in March and that although the recently adopted election law was not ideal for the Kurdistan Region, when negotiating in democratic politics you cannot have everything your way or ignore the wishes of other parties.

"We believe that American commitments to support us are far more important than one or two more or less seats (in the Iraqi Parliament). In the Iraqi political process today, no party can single-handedly govern. Therefore, it is necessary to form coalitions with the other parties that believe in peaceful co-existence and democracy."

President Barzani also emphasized the firm and consistent position of the Kurdistan Region in continuing to be in a joint front with the US in the fight against terrorism and those who are against freedom and democracy in Iraq. He stated, "We will also continue in our efforts to secure a stable Iraq, free from terror."

Regarding the situation in the Kurdistan Region, President Barzani articulated that the Kurdistan Region will continue to establish its constitutional institutions and put forth all efforts to secure a bright future for the people, and with this aim, to unify the Peshmerga and Security Forces (Regional Guards).

President Barzani happily accepted the formal invitation to visit Washington.

The US Secretary of Defense, after visiting Baghdad and Kirkuk, arrived this afternoon in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region. He was received at the Erbil International Airport by Fuad Hussein, the Chief of Staff for the Kurdistan Region Presidency and Falah Mustafa Bakir, Head of the Department of Foreign Relations.

The meeting was attended by the KRG Ministers for Peshmerga and Interior, Director of the Intelligence and Security Agency Masrour Barzani, and a number of other KRG officials. From the American side it was attended by Ambassador Hill, General Jacoby, and other officials from the Department of Defense and the US Embassy in Baghdad.

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