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Robert Zoellick: Remarks at Press Briefing in Iraq

Press Briefing In Iraq

Robert Zoellick, Deputy Secretary
On-The-Record Press Briefing
Baghdad, Iraq
April 13, 2005

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: [n progress] well, look, I haven't really (inaudible) through my mind, but I kind of divide the day into two parts. And let me actually start with the second part because, you know, this is my first time to come to Iraq and so it was interesting. I looked at this all in the process of the political transition, so we could just start with Allawi, who (inaudible) with a lot of respect and he's accomplished a great deal.

I gave you a sense of -- with all the parties that I talked to, I tried to gain a sense of where they stand in the political process. I started to talk a little bit about some of these economic items that I discussed with you, and then also talked about the security side. And I'll come back to some of the particulars.

I had a really good conversation with the Speaker, Hassani. And there my main focus, given his post, was to get his sense of how he planned to try to move forward the constitutional process since that doesn't even really have to wait for the setting up of the government. I got a sense also from this conversation -- he had had dinner with Dr. Allawi the prior night -- is that they're setting the priority to try to move the constitutional process forward. I encouraged that because when you have a new Assembly, you can have many demands on you; I think it's important to have, you know, some major topics you want to put on your agenda. He really said his major goals were the constitutional process, and another good one, making sure that the electoral system was set up and running effectively for the elections that would presumably take place by the end of the year.

He also made a very interesting comment in that, you know, I was discussing with people the inclusiveness of the process, about bringing in the Sunnis, and he emphasized that it was important to see this as an Iraqi process, not as a process just of Sunnis or Shiites or Kurds, and that in fact he could see a benefit that groups would have diverse views as they turn to these issues.

Then I had a long conversation with the Prime Minister-designate, Jaafari, and there we covered the political process, the economics, the security. On the economics, I think that was a particularly useful element to start to bring into play because we're finding most of the discussions they've been used to having, conversations about the constitution and the political formation -- obviously they talk about the training of the troops and the security issues-- but this gave me the chance to, at least, start to outline some of the topics that I mentioned to all of you on the plane -- electricity issues, legal system issues, jobs and agriculture -- because what I wanted to suggest to him was that when his new cabinet is formed, we will want to engage with them about some of the ideas we have about advancing those agendas, and that that would be a good foundation for then working with the Europeans and others to build some additional support for the country in economic terms, but also in political terms. He seized on that, and he was, I think, very engaged in that topic.

When you're having a conversation like that, you can't get into great depth but, for example, on electricity I talked about the different pricing of the fuel and the electricity systems and some of the other elements that would go into a more effective system, including getting the ministries of oil and electricity to work together on those topics. So I was trying to plant the seeds, which is what I try to do on some of these trips, through the contacts, is plant the seeds for developing the policy further.

And then I met President Talibani, who I can see will be a strong and influential leader in the process. That was very interesting because among a number of topics, he emphasized how he'd had a group of Sunni leaders come visit him just yesterday, and he actually described them as, sort of, extremists in the system who wanted to come back into the political process. So we talked a little bit about that.

My overall sense from this was the political process is moving forward, there is a commitment to the constitutional process. Indeed, with the current Deputy Prime Minister, who is a Kurd, who was at the Talibani meeting, he reminded me that to delay the August 15 deadline would require a three-quarters vote in the Assembly, so he said there would be a lot of pressure to try to get this done on the August 15 process.

And, you know, I had a sense, again, of political leaders engaging about serious issues while representing slightly different groups and different perspectives, but of a process moving forward. That's certainly what I encouraged.

And on the security side, I think, this is one where there's a sense that attacks are down, at least in overall sort of scope. People are pleased that the Iraqi security forces seem to be playing a larger role. They know that that sort of training and development needs to continue. And frankly, all of them were very thankful and appreciative of the U.S. presence and they asked me to relay that. In fact, the Prime Minister-designate drew attention to something that I saw but I didn't really focus on, which is, he told a story of when he flew in a U.S. helicopter that kids were waving. And he said, they didn't know that an Iraqi was in that helicopter, and we probably saw the same thing when we were driving and in the helicopter, kids were waving. Frankly, I didn't know whether to expect that; we've been here for a couple of years and people either would have gotten used to it or they'd be more sullen about it. So I found that useful.

My sense from Fallujah, as I might have mentioned this to a couple of you -- I apologize, I forget -- was that, it was a little hard as we switched translators there, but --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) very good?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: I thought the first one, the engineer I thought was pretty good but -- I don't -- you speak Arabic and -- but my sense was that, in a session like that, I'm often looking for some -- a general sense, not necessarily for the particular details. And the general sense that I got was that this city council was created earlier this month and these individuals were from diverse backgrounds -- one was former Army, we had these two tribal leaders there, you had some people from the engineering side -- and they were engaged in the political process of making life better for Fallujah.

Now, there certainly are challenges ahead. I also was very much struck by the police Major General, who obviously was very moved by the relationship. He'd dealt with the prior set of Marine Expeditionary Force unit that was there. And at least from talking to General Johnson, who's the current Major General -- you know, you've got to hand it to the Marines. I mean, at least his predecessors managed to undertake a very dangerous operation, but then they turned to developing good relations with the community.

I also -- I talked to someone who had been to Fallujah quite recently, and said every time that he comes through again, you could kind of see additional stores opening -- Bill Taylor, who runs the economic team here -- and you got a sense of life coming back. So you also, when you travel the country -- I don't know if you guys have been here before -- you look at the rubble and you look at the devastation, you know there's a long way to go. And when you're putting on vests for security, you know that there's still danger out there. They may not be frequent incidents and they may not be large, but nevertheless they can certainly take lives and put people at risk.

And so, you know, the other aspect, frankly, of my visit here was to have a chance to talk to the military team and the civilian team. I'm going to be thanking our Embassy crew because, you know, a lot of people are going through some pretty difficult sacrifices, away from families, and I admire and respect what they're doing.

QUESTION: Time for a couple of questions and then we'll leave.

QUESTION: Did -- were you surprised by the, sort of, level of complaint and completely (inaudible) requests from them, from the Iraqis?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: No, but look, I've been in government for a long time. I remember when I was at U.S. Trade Representative, I would regularly meet groups that would want this, that and the other thing. When I used to do affordable housing around the country, I would deal with a lot of local governments and, you know, to me that was a sign that democracy was at work. (Laughter.)

I got a sense that their overall spirit was that they're trying to make something. I mean, when the guy was basically giving us the details of the sewer pipe and telling us the size and the inches of the sewer pipe, I mean -- I do a lot, I don't know about sewer pipe, but who knows?

QUESTION: Sewer requirement.

QUESTION: (inaudible) you over to the Mayor of Fallujah?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: We should relay that to Secretary Rice. Maybe she'll let me do it.

But what it said to me was that these guys were into it, you know, about what had to be done.

QUESTION: I want to ask about the amnesty issue. You said Mr. Talibani yesterday met with Sunni extremists trying to come into the system (inaudible) the amnesty that you proposed. What is the American position on that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, we didn't talk about it because there had been some prior conversations. I think Doug Feith was here, he talked with Talibani two days ago, and then even when Secretary Rumsfeld was here. The question didn't really have to come up because the position that Talibani had repeated to them was that, you know, no distinction in treatment between Americans and Iraqis and no relief for people that have blood on their hands. In my conversation with Talibani, it was -- he was -- he didn't say anything of that nature and it was much more of, you know, if people have committed petty crimes, he said people who committed serious crimes -- and he's struggling for a formula to try to, sort of, draw people into the larger democratic community here. And I think that the specification of our interests about not doing anything that would create any added danger for our forces, frankly, was already undertaken before I got here.

QUESTION: One more, on the hostage video at Al-Jazeera. Is there -- what the --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: All I know is that I was just told that it was, you know, that it was shown before here and obviously, you know, we want to try -- to call for the release of the individual. In situations like this we're in touch with the family, but we try to deal with privacy. But we're sort of -- actively involved trying to get the person back. I neither know more about it nor if I did would I be able to say anything about it.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.




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