US Secretary of State calls Iraqi Foreign Minister, as Ambassador meets senior Kurdish officials

Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani (right), then Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council, meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, Dec. 5, 2016. (Photo: KRG)
Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani (right), then Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council, meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, Dec. 5, 2016. (Photo: KRG)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - As new administrations take office in Washington, one of the first orders of business is to reach out to allies and partners, establish contact, and lay out the basis for working together for the next four years.

Thus, on Thursday, two days after he was sworn in as Secretary of State, Antony Blinken called the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Dr. Fuad Hussein. On the same day, in a parallel move, the US ambassador to Iraq, Matthew Tueller, travelled to Erbil to meet with the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Masrour Barzani, along with other senior KRG officials.

Continuing the Strategic Dialogue

In his phone conversation with Hussein, Blinken affirmed the continued US commitment to the Strategic Dialogue, begun last summer under the previous administration, according to a read-out of their conversation provided by the new State Department Spokesperson, Ned Price.

The basic US aim in the Strategic Dialogue is to normalize ties with Iraq—to establish the same kind of relationship with Baghdad that the US has with other Middle Eastern allies, like Egypt and Jordan.

Read More: The US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue: Good news for the Kurdistan Region

Under the last Democratic administration, that of Barack Obama, Washington had neglected Iraq. As a senator and presidential candidate, Obama had opposed the 2003 war in Iraq, and a distaste for dealing with Iraqi issues lingered in his presidency—until ISIS burst on the scene in the summer of 2014, and the US was forced to re-engage militarily in Iraq.

Although many officials in the new administration served in the Obama administration, Blinken’s discussion with Hussein, as well as Tueller’s meetings in Erbil, signaled that the Biden administration has a different attitude. It appears that the new administration will remain fully engaged in and with Iraq.

Baghdad’s read-out of their discussion concluded with the statement, “Blinken stressed the importance of communication and looked forward to a meeting” with the Iraqi Foreign Minister “in the near future.”

In their discussion, Blinken also expressed “his condolences for the horrible terrorist attack last week claimed by ISIS,” the US, as well as the Iraqi, read-outs stated.

Some 32 people were killed and 110 others wounded in a double suicide bombing in Baghdad last Thursday—the most lethal ISIS assault in three years.

US Supports Elections this Year, Economic Reform

The US Secretary of State also “encouraged” Baghdad “to continue efforts to address the demands for a more equitable and just nation,” while he supported the holding of elections later this year, according to Price’s summary.

Iraq was initially slated to hold elections in June, but the vote was postponed earlier this month, for technical reasons, until October.

Read More: Iraq postpones upcoming national election by 4 months

In addition, Blinken “pledged to continue to work” with Baghdad on economic issues, including the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, while “helping Iraq enact fundamental economic reforms and enhancing US-Iraq commercial ties to the benefit of both countries,” Price said.

KRG Prime Minister: Delightful’ that new US administration is ‘seasoned and informed’ about Iraq and Kurdistan Region

In his meeting with Amb. Tueller, Masrour Barzani expressed his great pleasure at the depth of understanding that the new US administration has about the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, and the area more broadly.

Indeed, for the first time in history, senior US officials know the Kurdish leadership, as they take office, having worked with them before—above all, in the war against the so-called Islamic State that began in the summer of 2014.

This knowledge and experience starts at the top, with President Joe Biden, whose familiarity with the Kurds goes back to his time as a senator, including his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Read More: Joe Biden—‘Good Friend’ of Masoud Barzani—becomes America’s 46th President

It also includes Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, as well as the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin.

Read More: PM Masrour Barzani congratulates Antony Blinken as new US Secretary of State

Read More: Lloyd Austin confirmed as US Secretary of Defense

Relations between the Kurdistan Region and the US were discussed, as Barzani and Tueller met. The US ambassador pledged continued coordination with the KRG, as well as continued US support for the Peshmerga.

The state of the ongoing negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad, as well as the upcoming Iraqi elections, were also discussed.

Editing by John J. Catherine