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Cablegate: Nea a/S Feltman's Meeting with President Talabani

DE RUEHGB #3316/01 3570915
O 230915Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/22/2029


Classified By: A/DCM Gary A. Grappo for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: In a wide-ranging discussion with visiting
NEA A/S Feltman on December 14, President Talabani
underscored the importance for Kurds of the POTUS/VPOTUS
telephone calls with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)
President Barzani, the December 7 White House statement on
Iraq's election law and the message conveyed by Secretary
of Defense Gates. He predicted a tough government
coalition process in Iraq after the March elections,
dismissed the significance of the Kurdish Goran ("Change")
Movement and said the PUK and KDP - which will again run on
a united Kurdish list - had agreed with PM Maliki's State
of Law coalition to try to form a front as part of a
government coalition after elections. On Iran ("a very
difficult country"), Talabani said the domestic political
situation is highly unstable and the regime's leadership
paralyzed: Supreme Leader Khamenei fears further alienating
the Iranian street, but is hemmed in by regime hardliners
and cannot afford to appease the opposition, either. Iran's
multi-ethnic population and the Islamic Revolutionary
Guard Corps' (IRGC) efforts to expand its writ posed
additional challenges for the regime. While Syria and Iran
agreed on much, Syria's attempts to resuscitate Iraq's
Ba'th Party (a mistake, in Talabani's view) worried
Tehran. Talabani said Saudi Arabia's effort to re-tether
Syria to the broader Arab community had prompted closer
Egyptian-Iraqi ties. The Saudi effort to isolate Iraq from
its regional neighbors was "misguided", but given the
personal enmity between King Abdullah and PM Maliki,
Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement was unlikely if Maliki won
another term as PM. Talabani said Iraq's second oil bid
round helped allay concerns about Iraq's credit worthiness,
highlighted its potential to become a wealthy country and
gave Iraq a chance to rival Saudi Arabia's oil production
in 10-15 years. End summary.

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2. (C) Talabani said KRG President Masoud Barzani was "very
pleased and satisfied" with the recent visit of Secretary
of Defense Gates (ref A) and his reiteration of the
December 7 White House statement on the U.S. commitment to
Iraq's constitution (including Article 140), support for a
census and pledge to help resolve outstanding Arab-Kurd
issues. Talabani said that while some actors in the Iraqi
Kurdistan Region (IKR) claimed the Kurds were "deceived"
into settling for 43 parliamentary seats as part of the
recently-completed election law deal (ref B), he and
Barzani believed long-term relations with the U.S., as
manifested in the White House statement and the SecDef's
message, were more important than an additional 2-3
parliamentary seats. A/S Feltman underscored the U.S.
commitment to resolve outstanding Arab-Kurd issues in
accordance with Iraq's constitution and Article 140.

3. (C) Talabani noted that "some Kurds" failed to
understand that Article 142 stipulates that any proposed
changes to the constitution cannot impinge on rights
otherwise guaranteed to the provinces. (Comment: Mentioned
in the White House statement of December 7, Article 142
provides a mechanism for amending the constitution. In
Qprovides a mechanism for amending the constitution. In
mentioning it, Talabani likely intended to caution that any
attempt to amend the constitution in a way that limited
Kurds' rights to resolve DIBs issues under Article 140
would be unacceptable. End comment.) While the Bush
administration had been "very friendly" toward the Kurds,
it had never publicly expressed support for Kurdish
interests, Talabani said. (Note: He claimed former VP
Cheney committed to doing so after Iraq adopted
hydrocarbons legislation, which has still not occurred.
End note). Kurds were "very glad" about the
POTUS/VPOTUS-Barzani calls and December 7 White House
statement, which represented a commitment by the U.S. to
them. (Note: As reported ref C, Kurdish, Arab and Turkoman
interlocutors have publicly and privately expressed the
fears that the POTUS/VPOTUS calls, together with the
December 7 statement, represent a deal by which the KRG
agreed to accept a consensus election law agreement in
exchange for U.S. support of a process that would lead to
the eventual annexation of Kirkuk into the IKR. End note.)

BAGHDAD 00003316 002 OF 005

--------------------------------------------- ----

4. (C) While the negotiating for a consensus agreement on
an election law compromise had been difficult, Talabani
claimed delaying the election until March would mitigate
weather-related complications during the polling. After
that would come the effort to form a coalition government.
"Then we will have problems", Talabani predicted. (Note:
Responding to Ambassador Hill's question about whether
Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament Speaker Dr. Kamal Kirkuki would
participate in the Kurdish Alliance List's negotiating
team, Talabani characterized Kirkuki as "a foolish man" and
joked that he was not really a doctor, not really named
Kamal and was not actually from Kirkuk, as his surname
suggested. End note.) Responding to A/S Feltman's question
about whether government formation negotiations would be
over the position of the president or the presidency
(encompassing the president and two vice-presidents),
Talabani said that in accordance with the Iraqi constitution,
they would only pertain to the office of the
president. Referring to VP al-Hashimi's unhelpful veto of
the November 8 election law, Talabani noted that the
current arrangement by which the president and two vice
presidents may veto legislation had benefits and drawbacks.
(Note: It is unclear whether parliament will approve
holding a constitutional referendum to extend the current
arrangement by which the president and two vice presidents
have a veto. End note.)

5. (C) Talabani said in recent negotiations the PUK and KDP
reached agreement with PM Maliki's Shi'a-led State of Law
Alliance (SLA) to form a front as part of a coalition
government after elections. The bloc with the largest
number of seats would nominate a candidate for PM.
(Comment: Consummation of the proposed deal will likely
depend on how many seats SLA is able to win. End comment.)
Talabani said the KDP and PUK will again run together on a
united Kurdish Alliance List (KAL). Nawshirwan Mustafa's
Goran (aka, "Change") Movement would run on a separate
list, as would the Kurdish Islamic Union and League of
Muslims of Kurdistan.

--------------------------------------------- ---

6. (C) Responding to A/S Feltman's question about what
Goran meant for Kurdish internal politics, Talabani
characterized the movement as an expression of
dissatisfaction with the status quo. Criticizing Goran's
"negative agenda", he claimed the movement lacked an
organized party structure, a program and leadership.
(Comment: As reported ref D, Goran largely agrees with the
PUK/KDP's "national" Kurdish agenda; however, unlike the
PUK/KDP, Goran believes implementation of Article 140 and
progress on resolving Kirkuk should be the first among
them. End comment.) Talabani complained that although
Goran members were part of a group of IKG parliamentarians
that participated in election law negotiations in Baghdad,
they later claimed they had been deceived into backing the
compromise agreement.

7. (C) Sharply criticizing Goran, he claimed its members
were "politically immature" and did not understand politics
outside the IKR. Dismissing Goran's significance for
internal Kurdish politics, Talabani claimed "thousands" who
had supported the party in July's KRG parliamentary
elections had been disappointed by it and were now
Qelections had been disappointed by it and were now
leaving. Talabani claimed many of those were joining
Kurdish Islamic parties, whose ranks were swelling, to
register opposition to the existing PUK-KDP bipolar order.


8. (C) A/S Feltman gave the U.S. assessment that the
Iranian regime's failure to respond positively to elements
of the October 1 proposal reflected divisions within the
regime's leadership and an inability to reach a decision on
its nuclear aspirations. Talabani cautioned against
ignoring "the real crisis" Iran's regime now faced.
Opposition born of the regime's heavy-handed response to
election protests had clearly demonstrated that the regime
lacked the support of a majority of Iranians. Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei does not want to lose the
sympathy of the Iranian street, but "cannot afford to
appease it, either." Talabani expressed his view that
recent remarks by Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani decrying

BAGHDAD 00003316 003 OF 005

"plots" against Iran's nuclear program also constrained
Khamenei's room for maneuver and threw into stark relief
the internal political crisis the regime faces. There is
"no security and no stability in Iran now", Talabani said.

--------------------------------------------- ---

9. (C) Compounding longstanding fissures in the political
landscape is Iran's multi-ethnic population, which had
become an increasingly prominent source of friction,
according to Talabani. Noting 14 Kurdish intellectuals
were recently sentenced to death for peacefully opposing
the Iranian regime, Talabani highlighted what he termed the
emerging "partisan war" between the regime and ethnic
Azeris. Talabani flatly said there had been "interference
in and falsification of" election results by the regime.
He agreed with A/S Feltman's assessment that it was
unlikely reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi had legitimately
lost in his predominantly Azeri home province. Stressing
the key role Mousavi played during his tenure as Iranian
Prime Minister in developing ethnically Azeri areas of
Iran, Talabani said he was genuinely popular and enjoyed
wide support. Describing the current struggle between
reformists and the regime, Talabani said Mousavi is "now
engaged in a fight from which he cannot retreat".


10. (C) A/S Feltman observed that Iran,s Islamic
Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was taking advantage of
political instability and the leadership's paralysis to
expand its writ. Talabani agreed, but noted that while the
IRGC's leadership is united at the senior levels,
divisions exist among the rank and file. The IRGC was not
popular, he said: Iranian Army leaders were unhappy that
the IRGC, a rival for resources and influence, was
expanding its domain and Iranian merchants were unhappy
about the IRGC's increasing involvement in economic
activities. A/S Feltman underscored potential short-term
dangers stemming from increased IRGC influence. An example
was the increased IRGC naval presence in the Persian Gulf,
where the U.S. and Iranian navies had longstanding
experience with each other's operations and established
bridge-to-bridge communication protocols to mitigate
potential miscommunication.

11. (C) Agreeing that the IRGC was trying to extend its
influence, Talabani said the IRGC had to approve the
appointments of most Iranian ambassadors, including all
those appointed to "important states". He stressed the
importance of differentiating between "what they (IRGC
leaders) say and what is in their hearts". In their
hearts, IRGC leaders are afraid; however, they adopt a
maximalist public line in the belief it will help the
regime reach the best possible deal with the U.S. and
Europe on the nuclear program and other issues. Talabani
attributed significant changes in the IRGC's leadership
cadre to concerns about loyalty stemming from the
widely-repeated view that 70 percent of IRGC officers
voted for reformist former Iranian President Mohammad
Khatami in 1997, and presumably remain sympathetic to the
reform movement.


12. (C) Noting that the U.S. had pursued bilateral and
multilateral approaches, but had not been able to prompt
Iran's regime to respond, A/S Feltman asked Talabani what
QIran's regime to respond, A/S Feltman asked Talabani what
advice he might offer. After a long pause, Talabani sighed
and conceded that Iran is "a very difficult country".
While some Iranians claimed nuclear weapons were
un-Islamic, the regime was making "quick progress" towards
acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Talabani said he
believed there were more secret sites than the recently
disclosed one at Qom, and assessed that the Iranian regime
sought to approach turn-key status with respect to its ability
to initiate production of nuclear weapons. He noted the
of the nuclear program as a "national issue" with which the
regime could rally the Iranian people and deflect attention
from shortcomings in domestic programs. Citing increased
Russian pressure on Iran, Talabani said he thought U.S.
policies had been "wise." He offered that it would be
helpful if China reached a similar decision with respect to
its willingness to further pressure Iran, and suggested
that increased Iraqi oil production could help mitigate

BAGHDAD 00003316 004 OF 005

China's dependence on Iranian oil, potentially freeing
China to pursue a harder policy on Iran's nuclear program.


13. (C) While Iranian leaders' views on individual Shi'a
Iraqi leaders were "not homogeneous" (some supported former
PM Jaafari, others supported PM Maliki), they are united in
their desire for a Shi'a-led government and fear of a
resurgent Ba'th Party. Talabani said a contact told him
during his last visit to Iran that Muhammad Nassif
Khayrbek, the former head of Syria's General Intelligence
Directorate and a senior advisor to President Bashar
al-Asad recently visited Tehran and proposed that Iran and
Syria cooperate to bring Iraq's Ba'th Party back to power
as "a bridge between Iran and Syria". (Note: Talabani flew
to Iran on/about November 22 to appeal for the lives of
Iranian Kurds sentenced to death. End note.) A/S Feltman
noted that while Iran and Syria agree on much, a major
point of divergence is Iraq. Talabani agreed, noting that
Syria heavily supported Iraqi Ba'thists, while Iran opposed
them. Syria is actively working to change Iranian leaders'
minds; however, Syria's support for the Iraqi National
Movement coalition that includes, among others, former PM
Ayad Allawi (secular Shi'a) and Saleh al-Mutlaq (Sunni with
Ba'thist ties) "worried Iran."

14. (C) Talabani said the Syrian regime approached him one
month ago through a friend to ask that he help mediate
between Syria and Iraq to reduce tensions stoked by PM
Maliki's accusation of Syrian complicity in recent bomb
attacks against GOI facilities in Baghdad. The emissary
said Talabani should contact President Bashar al-Asad
directly, and that Syria was willing to "cease all support
for action against Iraq" if an accommodation could be
reached. A/S Feltman noted that the U.S. was trying to
identify ways to improve relations with Syria. Talabani
stressed that if there were any improvement on the
Israeli-Palestinian track, better U.S.-Syria relations
could be possible. Recalling an exchange several years ago
with Bashar in which he asked what Syria wanted from the
U.S., Talabani said Bashar answered that he wanted the
Golan back and a stable Iraq that would not work against
Syria, in that order. Talabani said he asked Bashar if the
order could be reversed, pointing out that strong
Syria-Iraq ties could help Damascus with respect to Israel.

--------------------------------------------- -----

15. (C) On Syria's support for those conducting attacks in
Iraq, Talabani said Syria made "a big mistake" in thinking
it could return the Ba'th Party to power in Iraq, which was
their ultimate goal. The nadir of Syrian-Iraqi relations
coincided with the period in which the Ba'th ruled Damascus
and Baghdad. Syrian leaders wanted to play the role of
"fraternal helpers" in restoring Iraqi Ba'thists to power.
Baghdad's offer to reopen pipelines, supply gas and open
points of entry on the Syria-Iraq border had been viewed
suspiciously by Damascus, which did not believe a
Maliki-led government would honor such commitments.

16. (C) A/S Feltman noted that in conversations with Syria,
the SARG always raised Iraq. The U.S. recently asked Syria
to stop broadcasts from Damascus of Ba'thist-backed
satellite channels glorifying terrorism and violence, but
had not seen any action. Talabani offered that Syria was
Qhad not seen any action. Talabani offered that Syria was
waiting for the results of Iraq's upcoming elections, in
which they hoped a strong Sunni bloc would emerge, before
making any decisions on its Iraq policy. Noting that the
SARG was good at collecting cards, A/S Feltman asked
Talabani when they might actually play their hand.
Talabani replied that while Hafez al-Asad had been an
excellent player, Bashar was still young. Referring to
Bashar's leadership style, he said Arabs jokingly described
Syria as a "Jamluka", a play on the Arabic words
"Jamahuriya" (Libya's "state of the masses") and "mamluka"

--------------------------------------------- ------

17. (C) A/S Feltman asked Talabani what the visit to
Damascus in October by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah after a
five-year hiatus in Saudi-Syrian relations meant for Iraq.
Talabani laughingly said King Abdullah told him "You and
Iraq are in my hearts, but that man (Maliki) is not".
Citing Maliki's "failed promises" to Saudi leaders,

BAGHDAD 00003316 005 OF 005

Talabani said Abdullah and the Saudis refused to deal with
the PM, despite U.S. attempts to mediate. Syria, too,
blamed Maliki for Iraq's anti-Syria policies and found it
difficult to work with him. According to Talabani, Syrian
officials told Maliki during the latter's most recent visit
to Damascus (shortly before the August 19 bombings in
Baghdad) that they were supporting Iraq's Ba'th Party,
further stoking Maliki's fear of Ba'thist conspiracies
against him.

18. (C) Talabani said King Abdullah is trying to re-tether
Syria to the broader Arab community, an initiative Egypt
opposes. Partly as a consequence, Egyptian-Iraqi relations
had improved. Riyadh tried to pressure Cairo not to
facilitate Maliki's recent visit to Egypt, but the visit
had come off. A/S Feltman offered that King Abdullah's
visit to Damascus and the possibility of warming ties
between Saudi Arabia and Syria was likely a factor in
encouraging Egyptian ties with Iraq, to help counterbalance
the Saudi effort. Noting
Riyadh's important regional role, Talabani said Saudi
Arabia was actively working to prevent Iraq from developing
relationships with its regional neighbors, and claimed it
had pressured Kuwait to backtrack on initial agreements
with Iraq on issues dating to the Saddam-era. Despite
Saudi opposition, though, Qatar and Bahrain were seeking
improved relations with Iraq.

--------------------------------------------- --------

19.(C) Talabani characterized the Saudi policy as
misguided, noting that Iraq could play a positive role in
attenuating tension between the Saudi government and its
largely Shi'a opposition. A/S Feltman said the U.S. would
encourage the Saudis to revisit their Iraq policy after
Iraqi elections in March. Talabani offered that if Maliki
remained PM, things would likely remain as is since the
enmity was personal; however, with a different PM - even
another Shi'ite like ISCI's Ammar al-Hakim or Allawi -
there was a chance for positive change. He cautioned that
such an effort could be hurt if the Saudis' efforts to
support the emergence of a strong Sunni bloc in the Iraqi
parliament failed, which he thought likely.

20. (C) Talabani assessed Turkey's role with respect to
Iraq as generally good and said his relations with Turkey
were "excellent". Noting improved relations between Ankara
and the KRG, he pointed to Turkish FM Gul's recent visit to
Erbil. Turkey could play a positive role in the region and
Ankara's policy towards Kurds (Iraq) and Alawites (Syria)
was generally positive, despite opposition from the Turkish
General Staff and some quarters of Turkey's parliament. He
offered that Turkey could play a positive role with respect
to Syria.


21. (C) Talabani expressed surprise that companies from the
U.S., which "liberated Iraq and therefore earned the
right", had not won more contracts during Iraq's
recently-concluded Second Petroleum Licensing Round ("bid
round"), held December 11-12 in Baghdad. (Note: As reported
ref E, only three of the seven pre-qualified U.S. companies
attended the bid round and only one (Occidental Petroleum)
submitted a bid. No U.S. companies were awarded contracts
during the second bid round; however, ExxonMobil and
Occidental won contracts in the first round potentially
allowing them to develop nearly three million barrels per
Qallowing them to develop nearly three million barrels per
day of future Iraqi oil production, representing nearly a
third of the potential total increase in Iraqi oil
production from the two bid rounds. End note.) Ambassador
Hill underscored that U.S. oil and gas service companies
were expected to garner significant business as part of the
effort to increase Iraqi oil production under the new
contracts. He also noted that with the second bid round,
companies from all five UNSC permanent members had
production contracts in Iraq. Noting that Iraq's oil
production could rival Saudi Arabia's in 10-15 years,
Talabani said the second bid round would help allay
concerns about Iraq's credit worthiness and highlight its
potential to become a wealthy country.

22. (U) A/S Feltman cleared on this message.

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