Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Ali al-Hakim speaks to reporters on January 2, 2019. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraq is pursuing options to continue trade with neighbour Iran as it isn’t obliged to abide by US sanctions, said Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Ali al-Hakim on Wednesday.
"These sanctions, the siege, or what is called the embargo, these are unilateral, not international. We are not obliged [to follow] them," Hakim told journalists at a roundtable with members of the media.
Some "possibilities" have been proposed that would keep trade routes open with Iran, "including dealing in Iraqi dinars in bilateral trade," he added.
Another idea floating around is to create a fund for payments to Iran that would be used to buy goods on Iran’s behalf, the minister said.
Trade between Iraq and Iran, who share a nearly 1,500-kilometre long border, is at $12 billion, according to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. After meeting with Iraqi President Barham Salih in November, he said he envisioned trade growing
to $20 billion.
Iraq imports electricity from Iran to supplement its inadequate supply. It also depends on Iranian gas to fuel domestic electricity generation. Iraq’s electricity minister last week signed
an agreement with Iran’s energy minister to continue this cooperation in the energy sector.
The United States has given Baghdad another 90 days before of grace before it has to abide by sanctions on Iran.
The majority of Iraq’s Shiite parties have rejected the US sanctions against Iran, calling them “unjust” and “oppressive.” Former prime minister Haider al-Abadi caused uproar among pro-Iran parties and Iran itself when he said Iraq is committed to the sanctions.
The foreign minister also touched on the selection process for ambassadors, revealing they will standardize the procedure and base it on competency, not ethnic quotas.
"We don't have a number of Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis, Turkmen, Christians, or anything. This time, I will call it the 'Golden Group.' We will pick the best 40 from this ministry," he explained.
The ministry will open the testing process to all who want to apply.
"This is exactly what we're going to do. We are going to do as much as we can to select the best 40 from the Foreign Ministry to present that group in the best possible shape,” said Hakim.
Diplomats will also be required to speak foreign languages like English, French, Spanish, or German.
“The English language test will be essential,” said Hakim, adding that no candidate will be exempt from the testing.
Previously, the Foreign Ministry selected ambassadors according to sectarian and ethnic quotas, as is common practice across the government.