Tillerson to PM Barzani: US encourages Baghdad to start serious talks with Erbil

 Tillerson to PM Barzani: US encourages Baghdad to start serious talks with Erbil

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stressed in a phone call on Saturday with Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani that Washington is in constant contact with Baghdad to create conditions to start serious dialogue with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

According to the KRG, in the telephone conversation with PM Barzani, Tillerson stressed the protection of peace for the sake of creating conditions for serious dialogue and reaching a desirable result between Erbil and Baghdad on the basis of the constitution.

Tillerson said that he was happy to see that tensions between the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces have recently calmed. He valued patience on both parts to protect peace. 

In the wake of the fall of Kirkuk on October 16, a series of military clashes between Peshmerga and Iraqi armed forces took place in Pirde, Makhmour and Khazir. However, the situation ceased after several military talks between both sides. 

Tillerson also thanked the KRG for its respect toward the hearing of the Iraqi federal court last week on the constitution after it ruled that it does not allow the separation of any part of the country. 

Tillerson also offered his country’s condolences for the victims of the earthquake that hit the Kurdistan Region last week killing 10 and wounding 500 others. He also expressed the readiness of his country for any assistance and coordination in this regard.

Moreover, Barzani for his part said that the Kurdistan Region is ready to resolve all problems on the basis of the constitution, and through serious dialogue with the Iraqi federal government. 

He also hoped that the US and coalition members will help, support and play their roles in initiating dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad.

Barzani expressed gratitude for Tillerson’s phone call and his condolences for the victims of the earthquake. He said that they will welcome any assistance for the affected people. 

Barzani also reiterated that the blockade on the Kurdistan Region’s airports should be lifted, which are of great importance in humanitarian matters. Some of the assistance sent to the more than 1.5 million refugees and IDPs in the Kurdistan Region is delivered through these airports.

In response to the Kurdistan Region's September 25 independence referendum, Baghdad took a set of punitive measures against the Region, including a fight ban to and from the Kurdistan Region. 

Barzani and Tillerson had previously spoken over the phone on November 3 when both had emphasized the need for political negotiations to begin between Erbil and Baghdad. 

The phone call came when over the weekend the US Special Presidential Envoy to the war against ISIS Brett McGurk, who is on tour in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, met with Kurdish officials in the Region, among them Prime Minister Barzani, pledging his country’s support for Erbil as a constitutional entity within Iraq.

Erbil has complained the Iraqi government aims to derecognize the Kurdistan Regional Government especially in the draft budget bill for 2018, despite being enshrined in the US-backed Iraqi constitution that came into effect in 2005 following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

McGurk had a day before met with the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad urging the two sides to engage in talks in light of the constitution to address their differences.

The Kurds in particular have said that the United States kept silent when the Iraqi army and its Iranian-backed Shiite militia marched toward the gates of the Kurdish capital using US weapons following the fall of Kirkuk on October 16.

The visit by the US delegate, the first since the US-opposed vote on independence in the Kurdistan Region which took place on September 25, came as Erbil called on the international community including the United States to help jump start political talks with Iraq.

The KRG has said they are prepared to enter open dialogue with the Iraqi government within the framework of the Iraqi constitution. It has since offered to freeze the outcome of the Kurdish vote, and said that it respects the ruling by the Iraqi Federal Court that concluded that no component in Iraq is allowed to leave Iraq.

Baghdad has yet to commit to dialogue with Erbil despite growing calls by international actors, such as the United Kingdom and Germany, urging the government of Abadi to do so.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story erroneously stated 12 people were killed in the Kurdistan Region by the earthquake. This has now been changed to 10 dead.