Kurdistan Regional Government
THU, 23 NOV 2017 03:09 Erbil, GMT +3

Prime Minister Barzani talks to the press: Dialogue is the only option

MON, 13 NOV 2017 22:05 | KRG Cabinet

Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Iraq (cabinet.gov.krd) – In a press conference, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani talked about the powerful earthquake which hit the Kurdistan Region and Iranian Kurdistan last night, Iraq’s 2018 Draft Budget bill and other issues related to the current situation in the Kurdistan Region.

Below is the transcript of the press conference:

Good morning,

As you all know, a powerful 7.3-magnitiude earthquake hit Halabja, Darbandikhan, and other areas in the Kurdistan Region last night. I want to express my condolences to the families of the victims and I wish a speedy recovery for those who are injured.

The Kurdistan Regional Government is sending teams to assess the situation and we will do whatever we can and spare no effort to help those in need.

I want to thank the Office of the Turkish President for calling us last night almost immediately after the earthquake occurred. I thank the Turkish Consulate in Erbil and the Turkish Foreign Ministry for contacting us last night and sending trucks of relief material so soon after the quake. They also sent a plane to Sulaimani with more relief material and a rescue team. I thank also the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, AFAD, and the Turkish President himself for his support. They did what was expected as they have done for us during difficult times in the past.

I also want to thank Germyan Administration officials, police, and security offices that immediately rushed to help earthquake victims last night and this morning, and they are still working to serve the people of our Region.
 
On another topic, we have officially sent our reservations and notes to Baghdad about the draft budget bill for 2018, pointing out problematic budget areas. We insisted on receiving the Kurdistan Region’s full 17 per cent share of the budget as agreed to in accordance with the Constitution and we await their response. There is also an issue of sending the required amounts of medical supplies essential, which is very important to serve over 1.5 million internally displaced persons, IDPs, and Syrian refugees.

Regarding military operations, there are currently no military movements on the frontlines. We have said before, and I will say it again, we believe peaceful dialogue with Baghdad on the basis of the Iraqi Constitution is the only way to solution for issues. 
 
Questions & Answers
 
Q: You have called for talks with Baghdad several times. Have they responded? What was their response?

Prime Minister Barzani: No, they have yet to respond. Once again, I reiterate that we should resolve our issues peacefully on the basis of the Iraqi Constitution.

Q: Last week, you said you would visit political parties in the Kurdistan Region. When are you going to visit them? Have you set a time for it?

Prime Minister Barzani: Yes, we were planning to visit the political parties, but the reason why it has been postponed is because some of the parties officials are not here. Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani and I have decided to start visiting the political parties when they get back.

After visiting them, we will assess the current situation and will work together to resolve issues, and after that we will select a date for elections in the Kurdistan Region.

Q: The weather is getting cold and people are talking about ‘white oil’ (kerosene) distribution. Can KRG provide ‘white oil’ for the people?

Prime Minister Barzani: Our ability in terms of providing oil is limited, but we will work on this.  

Q: It was said that a KDP delegation would visit Gorran. When is that going to happen? Also, if you make new changes, are there any positive points that you would like to adopt from ‘’Gorran’s package’’?

Prime Minister Barzani: What is ‘’Gorran’s Package’’? I am not aware of that, but anyway, whatever it is, if it helps improve the current situation in the Kurdistan Region, I will consider it and I am ready to listen to all opinions and suggestions.

Regarding the KDP-Gorran meeting, it is true. KDP will visit Gorran as a political party. We are ready to negotiate with Gorran. We will talk as two political parties of the Region.

Q: I heard that Rosneft helped KRG pay its debts to Dana Gas, is that true?

Prime Minister Barzani: Dana Gas’s case was settled in the London Court. We reached an agreement and solved the issues with Rosneft’s help.

Q: The Federal Supreme Court of Iraq stated that secession from Iraq is unconstitutional. What is your opinion about that? Also, the US Congress has agreed to pay salaries of Peshmerga forces while Peshmerga’s name is not included in Iraq’s budget draft even though Peshmerga is listed as a defence force. Can you also give us an update on Kosrat Rasul’s health?

Prime Minister Barzani: We have read and discussed the decision made by the Federal Supreme Court of Iraq and soon we will officially respond to it. I do not want to respond here.

Regarding the decision of the US Congress, we had an agreement with the US Department of Defence to provide financial assistance for our Peshmerga. That agreement came to an end but we are trying to renew it. The US Congress has been considering our request and we thank them. Our Peshmerga deserve their help because they are part of the defence forces of Iraq, especially when it comes to fighting terrorism and ISIS.

Regarding Kosrat Rasul, we are saddened by the news of his health. We are in contact with his doctors and his son, and we have been told his health is better. We pray that he will become even better soon and comes back to the important work we are all engaged in.

Q: After the Iraqi Government cut Kurdistan Region’s share of the national budget, if the KRG does not reach an agreement with Baghdad, will the KRG be able to pay salaries of its employees? Also, there have been rumours going around that you will lead a delegation and visit Baghdad to negotiate. Is that true?

Prime Minister Barzani: The new budget draft is the worst draft so far. The words and statements used in the draft are intended to divide Kurdistan Region’s political entity. Our stance is clear, the Iraqi Constitution clearly recognizes the Kurdistan Region and the KRG as a political entity.  The governorates all agree insist on protecting that entity.

We want to reach an agreement with the Iraqi Government, but according to the budget draft, the money that Baghdad has budgeted is insufficient for our Region. It is not enough even for a single governorate. If Baghdad is serious about supporting the Region with the agreed, fair share of the budget, we welcome it. It is obvious, however, they do not intend to do so. We have a modern biometric system in which all KRG employees are registered.

If Baghdad sincerely really wants to pay salaries of the people of Kurdistan, we are accepting it. But Baghdad works in two different ways. On one hand, they tell the people of Kurdistan that they will pay their salaries, and on the other hand, they submit a budget draft to the Iraqi Parliament that not only is not enough to pay the salaries of the people, but also attempts to dismantle the Kurdistan Region, which is a constitutionally recognized entity. The Iraqi Government promises to pay salaries, but according to the budget draft, they actually are not ready to do so. If they want to pay the salaries of KRG employees, we are ready to collaborate with them.

And, no, we have not decided to visit Baghdad. However, we are willing to start peaceful and serious negotiations with Baghdad in order to resolve outstanding issues.

Q: Mr Prime minister, some Kurdish media and Turkish media stated that your attempt to visit Turkey and meet with Turkish officials has failed.  Would you continue to arrange a visit to Turkey?  My second question is about the Iraqi government’s response to the earthquake in the Kurdistan Region, did the Iraqi government contact you to show its readiness to help Kurdistan? The third question, what would be your comment about some talks which says Rosneft Company is going to offer the Kurdistan Region one billion US dollars. And my last question regarding employee salaries, how can the KRG pay salaries in the coming months.
 
Prime Minister Barzani: Regarding the salaries, we can and will pay salaries for this month and the next month. About your last question, we have received from Rosneft an amount in accordance with the agreement we sign with international oil companies and no amount thereafter. Turkey is our neighbour and we seek good relations with all our neighbours. We look forward to visiting Turkey but so far there has been no failed attempt as you mention. The Iraqi Minister of Health has contacted our KRG Minister of Health, asking about earthquake casualties. 

Q: We hear that those who visit Baghdad from the KRG are only technical teams, why just technical teams are being sent to Baghdad?

Prime Minister Barzani: First of all, everything and all problems should be solved between the KRG and the Iraqi Government in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution.  These technical teams consist of KRG ministers who represent various sectors of our government of particular importance at this time, including finance and law, to engage in serious talks with Baghdad.
 
Q: I have two questions, the first question; there are talks about a special team from Baghdad arriving in Erbil to review the KRG employees’ list. Is it true that Baghdad saying doesn’t want to work with the biometric system? The second question is related to the border crossing points with Iran. Why did Iran reopen some border crossings but some others are still closed?
 
Prime Minister Barzani: Our biometric system is a very good system and we are now auditing all names on the list. What some people say about this system is not true; the system is very credible and is part of KRG reforms.   We continue to review and auditing all persons in the list, that is why I cannot tell you the final number of employees at this time.  The number of pensioners published in the media is not accurate.  It was said there are more than 200,000 ghost names among retired people, which cannot be true, because the total number receiving pensions are 240,000. There are no Baghdad teams here in the Kurdistan Region.

Regarding border crossings with Iran, this question should be asked of the Government of Iran. Iran has reopened the Beshmakh border crossing and it is anticipated the rest will also open, which is in the best interest of Iran itself and our Kurdistan Region. We are in contact with Iran on this issue and await their decision.
                            
Q: The US State Department announced the US is monitoring closely the situation and works with both KRG and Iraq to start a new round of talks. Is this helping Baghdad and Erbil to begin talks?  My second question is this, the Iraqi government spokesperson said that Iraq works and treats the KRG and governorates as it did earlier, asserting that Baghdad respects the KRG and works with it, indicating Iraq has changed its attitude toward the Kurdistan Region. What is your comment on this? My last question is this, Kurdistan has a coordination office in Baghdad. Don’t you think now is the time to reactivate this office to bring Baghdad and Erbil closer together?

Prime Minister Barzani: Dealing between the Kurdistan Region and the Iraqi government is natural and necessary. Iraq should deal with the KRG in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution. Dealing directly with the governorates on regional issues instead of the KRG is unconstitutional. In reality, however, Baghdad doesn’t act according to what its leaders say.  Let me give you some examples. They said we deal with the KRG and not governorates, but in the Iraqi Budget Draft for 2018, the name of KRG is not mentioned. They talk about governorates, which is not constitutional, because the KRG is a one administration. Another example, we are aware that Baghdad has issued an instruction to their staff that they must seek permission by indicating the governorate they intend to visit in the Kurdistan Region.

Such action clearly contradicts what they say. What we see is that Baghdad is attempting to divide and dissolve the KRG, which is a clear and present danger to all political parties, other groups, and the people of Kurdistan.

We hope, ask, and assert that all issues be resolved in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution. We want a serious dialogue according to the Constitution, which was approved by the Iraqi people. We expect Baghdad to act according the Constitution by implementing what the Constitution says.

Many Iraqi Government decisions are unconstitutional, as are some decisions by the Iraqi Parliament against the Kurdistan Region. The Iraqi Constitution does not allow the federal government to act against the Kurdistan Region.  But, unfortunately, the federal government chooses to act according to some articles and not on others. The Constitution is not a restaurant menu.  We must accept and abide by each and every article.

We thank the US State Department for supporting talks, but up until now no schedule for talks has been proposed.  Regarding the coordination office, yes, it is important. If and when we start negotiations with Baghdad, this office will be reactivated with great care.  Regarding the closing of media offices, this is a highly inappropriate decision and we look forward Baghdad reviewing and reversing their decision.

Q: Mr. Prime Minister, there is also a crisis regarding a serious shortage of medicines because Baghdad is not allowing medicines to be sent to the Kurdistan Region.  Could KRG provide sufficient medicines and other medical supplies to KRG Ministry of Health for the coming months? My second question is about the salaries of the Peshmerga.  If Baghdad doesn’t intend to pay Peshmerga salaries, how will you deal with this issue?
 
Prime Minister Barzani:  We believe Kurdistan has the right to receive medicines and medical supplies up to 17 per cent of the total supplied to the whole country by the Iraqi Ministry of Health. 

The fight against ISIS is a very good example to illustrate the serious issues to be resolved with Baghdad. Our Peshmerga were vital to the liberation of Mosul where and when they acted as an integral part of the Iraqi defence force.  The Iraqi federal government should act in accordance with the Constitution and provide the full, agreed 17 per cent share of the total national budget, not 12 per cent. We reached an agreement with the federal government in the presence of Mam Jalal and the Iraqi Finance Minister.  I attended that meeting.

If they want to arrange the budget according the population, let us have a credible general census in all of Iraq. This would accurately indicate Kurdistan’s share according to the population.  In the meeting, we agreed that Baghdad would provide 17 per cent of total national budget and revenue until the results of a reliable census are known. At first we asked for 23 per cent but compromised on 17 per cent. Iraq should act according to this agreement until the general census is conducted. If there is a general census, we will agree and expect our share based on it. 

About medicines and medical supplies, Baghdad has sent some but Kurdistan’s share has been reduced.  We are in contact with the federal Ministry of Health to solve this issue.  Because of the 1.5 million refugees and IDPs we need much higher amounts than usual. Refugees and IDPs have increased Kurdistan’s population by almost 30 per cent. Hosting and caring for them has cost the KRG 1.5 billion US dollars to date.
 
Q: Iraq decreased Kurdistan’s share to 12 per cent. How do you think about this, and will the KRG work on this issue until it gets its full share from the Iraqi national budget? Are the talks helpful in solving this problem?  What would be the consequences?
 
Prime Minister Barzani: First, the Kurdistan’s political parties will meet to decide this issue. We affirm the KRG Kurdistan will not agree to this reduced rate from the Iraqi budget, but at the same time we don’t seek to break with Baghdad. We will not close doors, we ask for dialogue. We can reach good resolution by solving problems through dialogue. The question is this, do we want permanent stability in Iraq, or do we want these problems to continue? If we want stability in Iraq, we have to reject dominance through power politics. We have to sit down and talk together to solve these problems. If Baghdad doesn’t want a stable country, then we will face the same problem in the future and what we experience today will continue. But the people of Kurdistan Kurdish will remain and will continue to ask for their rights.

This is not about one political party, it is about one nation, who asks for their rights. The rights we seek are constitutional rights.  This is in the Iraqi Constitution and we seek it according the Constitution. We thought about the Referendum because we are deeply disappointed with implementation of the Constitution. If our nation is confident about the future, and Iraq seriously works to implement the Constitution to protect our rights, then our nation will not go in another direction. So, Baghdad should think about the stability of Iraq, which includes Iraqi Kurdistan. The way to reach this is through serious dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad based on the Constitution approved by the Iraqi people.
             
Q: Dear Mr Prime Minister, Baghdad says that KRG is going to send a political delegation to Baghdad, but Baghdad wants KRG to send a technical delegation to start talks, is that true? And my second question is about talks among Kurdistan’s political parties and internal talks in the Kurdistan Region. We know that it was expected to have a meeting with Kurdistan parliament factions yesterday, but Gorran made obstacles by not attending the meeting, do you think Gorran movement had influences on the internal talks and led to postponing the negotiations?
 
Prime Minister Barzani: We didn’t hear from Baghdad about sending any delegations. The meeting was expected to be held but is just postponed until another date. I personally don’t see Gorran intended to make obstacles for the dialogue. We might hold this meeting during next week, no problem with that.
 
Q: what is your expectation from USA to have a role in Iraq … [inaudible] 
 
Prime Minister Barzani: I think you had better to ask the Americans themselves. Regarding Iran, Iran is our neighbour and also Iraq’s neighbour.  We want to have a good relation with all our neighbours. We want to have good relations with the USA, too. Our expectations from the USA have been shared with the US Consul General and other US representatives.  The US State Department has official stated their desire to see a strong Kurdistan Regional Government.  However, what we see in their statement is not, unfortunately, what is being done to protect the balance of peace and security in Iraq. What we seek is for the US Government to work to support dissolving tensions and solving problems between the KRG in Erbil and the federal government in Baghdad.
 
Q: Mr Prime Minister, you talked about danger for KRG in the Draft Budget for 2018. How would KRG deal with this danger, because the people of Kurdistan are waiting for a new solution from you?
 
Prime Minister Barzani: I already talked about this issue. I said we have to start talks with Baghdad to solve our problems.  Dialogue is the only option, there is no more peaceful alternative than dialogue. We want to have dialogue with Baghdad and solve our problems according to the Constitution.