US Defense Secretary James Mattis and Kurdistan President Masoud in Erbil on August 22. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — US Defense Secretary James Mattis told Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani that the US understands the demands and objectives of the Kurdistani nation, while expressing that the United States is not against the referendum, itself.
In an interview with the Arabic newspaper Sharq al-Awsat, Barzani revealed that during Mattis’ visit to Erbil on August 22, the defense secretary re-iterated that the United States is against the timing of the referendum, and not necessarily against the vote.
Barzani was reported as saying that Mattis had said the United States understands the demands and objectives of Kurdistan’s nation. It also knows that holding the referendum is Kurds’ right and the US is not against the referendum. Rather, this question will decrease the focus on the war on ISIS. The United States therefore calls upon you to revise this decision.
Barzani, whose Peshmerga officials have re-assured the United States that the referendum is political and will not affect their anti-ISIS efforts, responded that all efforts with Baghdad have failed.
After Mattis’ visit, the US Embassy in Iraq released a statement saying the United States is ready to support a “new framework for dialogue” between the regional and central governments.
“Mr. McGurk reiterated our opposition to the September 25th referendum and urged KRG officials and the central government to establish a new framework for dialogue on a host of issues, including their future relationship, emphasizing that the United States is prepared to fully back this process,” read the US press release, describing US Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk’s visit to Baghdad and Erbil with Mattis.
However, in the interview with the Arabic newspaper, Bazani said nothing has been prepared that would guarantee a better alternative for Kurds.
The president posited: Is there any preparation to sign a document which recognizes [independence] if the Kurds hold the referendum next year and vote for independence?
He added that the Kurdistan Region is in its historic days and weeks about its fate. There is in no use in delaying or turning back on the decision to hold the referendum, unless there is a better alternative.
Barzani also stressed that they should reach an outcome with Baghdad on this question peacefully.
He said that he is sure that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi wants to resolve the problems, but Abadi has many obstacles ahead of him, Barzani said of the premiere who faces political rivals and ongoing security threats in Iraq as ISIS is chased off the battlefields.
On August 15, a Kurdistani referendum delegation met with Abadi whose office called the discussions “open and profound” and addressed the necessity to enact proper mechanisms to resolve outstanding problems in a positive climate.
Barzani and Abadi last met face-to-face in early July.