25 September 2017   Leave a comment

As expected, the Kurdish referendum on greater autonomy and possible independence passed overwhelmingly.  Almost immediately, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran announced measures restricting Kurdish access to the outside world and Kurdish control over the disputed territory around the city of Kirkuk.  The US position is quite unclear as one can imeediately discern by reading this exchange at the US State Department’s daily briefing today.  I am quite impressed by the questions posed by the reporters at the briefing–they clearly understand the ambiguities of American policy toward the referendum.

QUESTION: Could I – yeah, could I move on to Kurdistan?

MS NAUERT: Sure.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS NAUERT: Let’s start there.

QUESTION: Can you, first of all, give – we saw the statement that you issued, but has anything transpired since the conclusion of their referendum? Have you arrived at any other – any position?

MS NAUERT: Well, I know that the actual vote numbers have not come in yet. It’s – we know that the turnout was obviously quite high and we certainly would understand why, a lot of enthusiasm, certainly, for that. I think our position, the U.S. Government’s position on the Kurdish referendum we’ve talked about since the very day I got here, and that was that we did not support that referendum. Despite our efforts and our ongoing conversations with both Mr. Barzani and Mr. Abadi – the Secretary had spoken with them both by phone, I know, in recent days – we expressed our deep concern about that, and also our disappointment that they decided to go ahead and conduct that vote yesterday. We look at that as a unilateral referendum and it was something that the coalition partners, the D-ISIS coalition – I don’t think there was a single nation that supported that.

QUESTION: Today, the Iraqi Government said – or in fact, they gave ultimatum to the Kurdistan region to close their airport system because they intend on closing their airspace. Do you have any comment on that?

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: Does that drive both —

MS NAUERT: So we’ve seen that – I’ve certainly seen that report. I’m aware of it. One of the things we would do is call on all sides to engage constructively. That, if that is, in fact, accurate, would not be an example of engaging constructively. We want the – both sides to come together and have some conversations and be able to move things forward, but do it in a constructive fashion.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Heather?

MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah, hi.

QUESTION: Thank you. So on your statement, you said that you will continue your historic relationship with the Kurdish people. Do you mean only the Kurdish people or with the Kurdish government as well?

MS NAUERT: Well, I think our conversations will be ongoing. We will continue to have conversations both with our friends in Baghdad as well as our friends in the north as well. We have a lot of conversations, as you all know. We have a close relationship with both. The United States Government and the coalition’s concern about this and the timing of this referendum was we didn’t want to splinter Iraq. We see the primary issue as taking on ISIS, defeating ISIS, annihilating ISIS, so that they never come to try to rule over and terrorize the Iraqi people again. We’d like to keep our eye on the ball with that. That failed; that is a concern of ours and is deeply disappointing.

QUESTION: And one more question. Aren’t you worried that by clearly taking the side of Baghdad you might discourage compromise on the side of Baghdad, or you might actually increase —

MS NAUERT: I would take issue with the premise of your question. We don’t see it as taking sides with Baghdad. We support a unified, democratic Iraq. Okay?

QUESTION: But by opposing the referendum, isn’t that taking side with Baghdad’s position?

MS NAUERT: We support a unified, democratic Iraq, and we want everybody to keep the – keep their eye on the ball, and that is annihilating ISIS.

QUESTION: And on Iran’s decision to halt air flights between Kurdistan – from and to Kurdistan, would you condemn that?

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that, so I’m sorry, I don’t have anything for you on that. Anything – anything? Anything with – Laurie. Hi, how are you?

QUESTION: I’m fine. You said you want to see constructive dialogue. What about President Erdogan’s statement that – threatening to close the border and to cut off oil exports? “When we close the… taps, their revenues will vanish… they won’t be able to find food.” Is that constructive dialogue?

MS NAUERT: I think that that would – that certainly sounds like a threat on the part of President Erdogan. But I’m not going to comment on what he’s had to say.

QUESTION: And what about these implicit threats of military action against the Kurdistan region? What is your view of them?

MS NAUERT: Military action by —

QUESTION: By Turkey, Iran, and Iraq.

MS NAUERT: Look, we want safety and security for the Iraqi people. We had tremendous concerns with this referendum. We’ve certainly talked about that a lot. That referendum had no basis in the Iraqi constitution or the law, and I’ll just leave it at that. Okay?

QUESTION: But these military – these threats of military action, you don’t firmly oppose them?

MS NAUERT: Look, we oppose violence from any party. I mean, that is clear. We would oppose violence in any way. We want to keep our eye on the ball of ISIS, and that is it. Okay?

Opposing the referendum, despite its overwhelming support for greater autonomy, while at the same time supporting the position of the Iraqi government is not a tenable position.  If the Kurds are confused, they have every right to be.  And there is no clear evidence that the US would support the Kurds if they were attacked by any of their neighbors.  Talk about hanging a reliable ally out to dry.  Al Jazeera has a very good video on whether the Kurds can support an independent state.

 

Saudi Arabia has granted women the right to obtain a driver’s license without needing the consent of a legal guardian.  Saudi Arabia is the last country to deny the freedom to drive to women and the change mirrors other changes that have been implemented since Saudi Arabia’s new Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has tried to modernize the Saudi economy.  The issue has been a human rights embarrassment for the Kingdom for many years, reflecting the profound control of conservative clerics on Saudi society.  We shall see if the move induces a backlash.

 

Something to watch out for.  We’ve had hurricanes and earthquakes recently, and there is seismic evidence from Indonesia that is concerning geologists.  Mt. Agung last erupted in 1963 and over 1,600 people were killed.  The seismic activity is serious enough to prompt the evacuation of 75,000 people from the immediate vicinity of the volcano even though there is no way to predict an eruption.

        

 

Posted September 26, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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