US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers a speech in New York with his press spokesperson Heather Nauert (not pictured) present on the sidelines of the 72nd UN General Assembly on September 20. Photo: Brendan Smialowski | AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The United States has called it “highly unlikely” that Erbil and Baghdad will have international support for negotiations, if the Kurdistan Region holds its independence referendum scheduled for Monday.
“The United States urges Iraqi Kurdish leaders to accept the alternative, which is a serious and sustained dialogue with the central government, facilitated by the United States and United Nations, and other partners, on all matters of concern, including the future of the Baghdad-Erbil relationship,” read a US State Department statement released on Wednesday.
Over the past week, the United States, United Nations, United Kingdom, and other nations have offered to facilitate dialogue between the central and regional governments.
"If this referendum is conducted, it is highly unlikely that there will be negotiations with Baghdad, and the above international offer of support for negotiations will be foreclosed,” added the statement.
During the tripartite visit to Iraq and the Kurdistan Region last week, the visiting delegation presented an alternative in place of the holding the referendum on September 25 to Kurdish leaders including President Masoud Barzani.
The details of the alternative were not publicly revealed by the US Special Envoy to Global Coalition Defeat ISIS Brett McGurk, who then called the referendum “ill-advised,” “ill-timed,” and lacking “international legitimacy.” He also said that was the position of all “entire coalition.” The Coalition is comprised of 69 nations. The United States has repeatedly claimed that the referendum will distract from the fight against ISIS, which Kurdish Peshmerga officials have rejected.
The alternative was studied by Kurdish leadership and referred to the High Referendum Council. On Friday, the majority of members in the Kurdish parliament voted to support the referendum process.
“The Kurds can be proud already of what the referendum process has produced, including more Kurdish unity, reviving the Kurdish parliament for the first time in nearly two years, and placing important issues on the international stage, with partners and friends prepared to build on the spirit of cooperation seen between Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga in the campaign against ISIS to help resolve outstanding issues. Unfortunately, the referendum next week will jeopardize all of this momentum and more,” added the US statement.
President Barzani reiterated his stance yesterday in Sulaimani — so far there is “unfortunately no alternatives” offered to take the place of the referendum.
He explained that the “referendum is to reach a sacred objective, that is independence.”
“We are prepared to enter serious, very friendly, and honest talks with Baghdad, with the international community, or with the support of the international community, so that we solve all the problems,” Barzani said, noting that afterwards, Kurdistan will be neighbors with Iraq.
Also on Wednesday, Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki rejected a UN-sponsored initiative aimed at finding a solution on disputes between Baghdad and Erbil regarding the Kurdish independence referendum.
Maliki, who released a statement in his role as the head of Iraq’s ruling State of Law Coalition on Wednesday, said that they reject an initiative by the UN Envoy to Iraq because it contains sections that are “unconstitutional.”
The statement added that the initiative was presented by Iraqi President Fuad Masum, a Kurd, and they reject in particular a section that calls for a time limit for talks, something he called a “pre-condition.”
Jan Kubis is the UN Special Representative for the Secretary-General in Iraq. His office was not able to comment on the issue of the referendum following Maliki's statement.
Monday’s referendum will ask people in the Kurdistan Region, Kurdish diaspora, and in the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by Erbil and Baghdad whose local governments have chosen to participate: “Do you want the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdistani areas outside the administration of the Region to become an independent state: ‘Yes’ or ‘No?’ ”
President Barzani explained on Wednesday that separation is a process.
“If it needs time, one year or at the latest two years, we can solve all the problems within these two years. And then we can say ‘goodbye’ in a friendly way,” said the president.