Cablegate: Testy Turkish-Iraqi Water Talks

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


Sensitive but Unclassfied. Please protect sources.

1. (SBU) Summary. Turkish officials agreed with Iraqi
Water Minister Rashid to continue technical water discussions
in July, but the Turks have yet to be convinced about Iraq's
request for additional water from the Euphrates. In a testy
meeting, the two sides disagreed on basic issue of whether or
not the Tigris and Euphrates were a single river system and
the potential role of the United Nations in facilitating
bilateral discussions. The meetings were positive in that
discussions will continue, but they point to the need for a
long-term process of mutual confidence building at the
technical level, which the U.S. could help support by finding
a way to include Turks in USG training programs for Iraqi
water engineers. End Summary.

2. (SBU) According to Midhat Rende, MFA DDG for water and
energy issues and the Turkish government's senior authority
on transboundry water issues, May 21 meetings between Iraqi
Water Minister Rashid and his Turkish counterparts were testy
and uncomfortable. Rende said the two countries would
continue talking, but that the tenseness of the meeting
pointed to the need for the "confidence building" measures at
the technical level for which Turkey has long called.

No Politicians, Please

3. (SBU) The initial meeting was held in the office of
Energy and Natural Resources Minister Hilmi Guler. Guler,
who had two other Iraqi ministers in the office at the same
time discussing electricity and oil issues, asked Rashid,
Rende and State Waterworks Authority (Turkish acronym DSI)
Director Veysel Eroglu to discuss the water issue "in a
corner." According to Rende, Rashid, who was unaccompanied
by technical or other staff, set the tone for the meeting by
objecting to Rende's presence, saying that he did not want to
talk to "politicians." Rende objected that he was a diplomat
responsible for transboundary water issues, but the meeting
went downhill from there.

4. (SBU) On top of Rashid's list was a request that Turkey
release additional water from the Euphrates to be used for
Iraqi hydropower generation. However, instead of focusing on
the power issue, Rashid cited what Rende called "unverifiable
data" showing a decline in Euphrates flows over the past 30
years. Rende objected that Turkey took relatively little
Euphrates water for domestic irrigation and was in fact
releasing considerably more than the 500 cm/sec called for in
its agreement with Syria. Similarly, Rashid said that Turkey
was responsible for lower flows in the Tigris, leading Rende
to point out that Turkey has no large dams on that river.
Even if there really had been a trend decline in flows to
Iraq, this could not be attributed, Rende said, to decisions
made by Turkey. Rende said that he and Eroglu were not in a
position to agree to Rashid's request, although it may be
discussed in more detail in a technical meeting planned for
July (see below).

Debate over River Basins

5. (SBU) Rende said that Rashid sounded a false note to his
Turkish interlocutors by insisting on speaking about the
Tigris and Euphrates as two separate river systems, in
contrast to the Turkish (and, Rende says, the international)
view that they form a single river basin, in that, among
other things, they flow together into the Gulf. This led to
a sterile discussion of whether the Shatt al-Arab was a
"river" or a "sea." Asked by ECON/C what he thought was
behind the Iraqi position, Rende said it was another
indication of what he sees as the "what's mine is mine"
mentality that prevails in Iraq (i.e., Iraq doesn't want to
include Tigris waters in a calculation of water sharing among
Iraq, Turkey and Syria). Rende said that he is often obliged
to argue with Turks who think about water in "what's mine is
mine" terms. Both countries need to get beyond this, as was
the trend in international water issues in general. Rende
pointed to the progress being made by the countries that
share the Nile in developing agreements that share water on
the basis of need.

Outside Facilitators

6. (SBU) Rende also said that Rashid had proposed the
United Nations as a "facilitator" of water discussions
between Iraq and Turkey. He said the minister was very
annoyed when Rende replied that he thought Turkey would "not
be too keen" on this idea as he was unaware of any river
basin in the world where the UN was making a real

7. (SBU) Rende said U.S. policy on the Tigris-Euphrates was
not clear. However, he told ECON/C he thought there could be
a role for the United States as a "neutral" facilitator of
such discussions. Understanding that USG agencies were
working closely with Rashid and his colleagues to develop
Iraq's water infrastructure, he cautioned that the U.S.
should not "take sides" on transboundary issues. Indeed the
United States could help, he thought, foster cooperation.
For example, he had heard that the Corps of Engineers is
sponsoring training for Iraqi technicians in river modeling
in the United States. The techniques being taught were not,
he thought, used in Turkey. It could be helpful to invite
Turkish water engineers to attend such training as a way to
develop a common way of thinking and common points of
reference for Turks and Iraqis.

July Technical Meeting

8. (SBU) Rende confirmed that Rashid and DSI Director
Eroglu met separately later that evening without Rende. He
said they agreed at that time to hold a bilateral technical
meeting in July. Rende reiterated that the DSI was not
empowered to make decisions on behalf of the GOT on issues
like Rashid's request for additional Euphrates water. The
MFA had the lead on coordinating government positions on such
issues. Furthermore, Rende hoped that meetings at lower
levels would allow for detailed, give and take discussions
that are not possible at the ministerial level.


9. (SBU) The meeting was not all negative. Rende agreed
that it was useful as a first step: "At least we are
talking." In addition to the agreement to meet again in
July, Rende was able to offer Turkish public and private
sector assistance in the development of Iraq's domestic water
infrastructure. In post's opinion, Rende was correct in
highlighting the political nature of the issues involved, as
well as the need for technical discussions to develop
confidence and support political decision-making. Rashid
will be disappointed if he is thinking that there is a quick
and easy way to leapfrog to high-level agreements. Post
supports Rende's suggestion that we seek to find a role for
Turkish observers or participants in USG training being
provided to Iraqi engineers.

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