THE SECRETARY-GENERAL | PRESS STAKEOUT ERBIL
Erbil, 2 March 2023
Ladies and gentlemen of the press – thank you for your presence.
I am glad to be back in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
In my previous visits to the area, including as High Commissioner for Refugees, I was deeply touched by the generosity and solidarity of the Kurdish people towards those fleeing conflict and catastrophe.
Today, amidst the devastation of the earthquakes in Syria and Türkiye, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to you for once again extending a helping hand.
I have just concluded fruitful meetings with the President, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament.
I thanked them for the close partnership with the United Nations.
We discussed relations with Baghdad and as I said there, moving from constant crisis management to a more structured, institutionalized dialogue is in the interest – and to the benefit – of all.
A number of issues require agreement, including: the 2023 federal budget and the oil and gas law, stronger security cooperation, the swift implementation of the Sinjar agreement, and the finalization of the Kirkuk Dialogue.
But in my discussions, both here and in Baghdad, I sensed a genuine commitment to move forward and I urge all to translate this commitment into reality.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good governance, respect for human rights and the freedom of expression, as well as inclusive political and electoral processes, are bedrocks of stability and drivers of prosperity.
I encourage all political actors across the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to work together to ensure that the delayed parliamentary elections take place this year.
Diverse – even opposing – viewpoints, as well as constructive criticism, are the lifeblood of any democracy.
Despite spirited differences, I urge all to put the interests of the people in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq first.
Full respect for the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and good neighbourliness is essential at all times.
I urge all to pursue dialogue and diplomacy and exercise maximum restraint to prevent further instability and contain the risk of regional escalation.
Finally, let me repeat what I said in Baghdad: my visit is one of solidarity and hope for the future.
But achieving a better tomorrow requires action today. It demands determined diplomacy, constructive dialogue – and the courage to make the necessary compromises.
After my meetings and discussions, I am convinced that important progress is now entirely possible.
The United Nations stands with the people of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to help build the better future that they deserve.
Allow me a personal note. I came to this region many times in the past as High Commissioner for Refugees. And I came as Secretary-General in the dramatic moments when Da’esh was close, and when fighting was fierce. And I learned to have an enormous admiration for the generosity and solidarity of the Kurdish people. And I want to say that, in my opinion, we are now facing an opportunity for Iraq, and an opportunity for the Kurdish region of Iraq. And that opportunity can translate itself into reality if Iraqis are able to come together and unite, and if, in this region, people can also come together and unite. Iraq is potentially a rich country that can guarantee to its people a future of prosperity. I strongly hope that this will soon become a full reality.
Moderator: We will take some questions.
Question: Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. This is Majeed Gly. It is so good to see you for the first time outside of the United Nations headquarters to ask you a question.
I have two questions. The first one is that we are now in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq still - a country that still has tremendous humanitarian needs, tremendous economic and security needs, and in need of international support. There are now concerns that because of the focus on the war in Ukraine, conflict in situations like we have in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region are being forgotten, or the international community does not give it as much attention. Do you share that concern?
And my second question is about your visit today this morning, to Jeddah camp. What did you saw there? And what is your message to those countries that still leave their foreign nationals in those camps?
Secretary-General: I will start with the camp. I was impressed by the descriptions that I heard about the dramatic suffering of people in Al-Hol. And I do believe that every country has the responsibility to take back their citizens. And I've been saying it time and time again. And I said it again today at the doors of the camp. Al-Hol can be a time bomb. It is high time for every country to follow the example of Iraq. Iraq is receiving its citizens as it's implementing a plan for the rehabilitation and the reintegration of those citizens. And I saw them, willing to do so, willing to reintegrate into the Iraqi society. So, it is absolutely essential that the example of Iraq is followed everywhere.
So the first question?
Question: The first one was a lack of focus or concern that the international community….
Secretary-General: Well, I am here in Iraq today, which means that we can see that what is happening in Iraq is a source of hope, but also should be a reason for engagement of the international community to support the Government of Iraq, and to support the people of Iraq, the people of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
There is no way we can neglect the many problems that we have around the world. The Ukrainian people are suffering a lot. The whole world is suffering because of the Russian invasion in Ukraine. But it is also very important to recognize that people in Yemen, people in Libya, people in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], people in so many other parts of the world need our engagement and our support. And where we see movement in the right direction, it is our duty to come and to support that movement. And that is exactly what I'm doing in Iraq today.
Question: I have just one question, please. What's the future of the relationship between Baghdad and Erbil?
Secretary-General: I was extremely encouraged to see, both in Baghdad and in Erbil, with all my interlocutors, a deep commitment to solve the outstanding problems and we all know that they refer to budgetary questions, we all know that they refer to oil, to revenues. But I saw, in both cities, all the officials I met, determined to have a meaningful dialogue and to solve these problems once and for all. And I am truly hopeful that this will happen; and, from our side, we will do everything we can to support this effort.
Question: Thank you so much. This is Rudaw Media Network. We are so happy that we see you here. My first question is about the Syrian and Iranian refugees who complain that the United Nations is providing very little assistance. So, my question is, will your cooperation improve?
And my second question is about, how will the United Nations assist in resolving the issue of Kirkuk, and the conflict areas under Article 140.
Secretary-General: The first question was about the United Nations, where?
Question: Here, in KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government], and Iraq also, especially in the camps.
Secretary-General: I was High Commissioner for Refugees. As High Commissioner for Refugees, I had the opportunity to visit the camps of the Syrian refugees and I was totally committed, and I believe UNHCR remains totally committed to support the Kurdistan Regional Government in providing the extraordinary solidarity that was provided for those refugees. If we are not doing enough, and probably we are not doing enough, I will do my best to see how we can better mobilize international support to make sure that those refugees are properly assisted through the UN agencies.
We are totally committed to support Iraq in relation to the Kirkuk dialogue. We know the complexity of the situation, but we believe that only dialogue, only cooperation can solve complex problems. And obviously, we will do everything we can, through our Mission, to support the dialogue, hoping that it will be positively concluded.
Question: [Question regarding the 2023 budget law and gas revenue]
Secretary-General: All these questions were discussed in Baghdad and in Erbil, and as I said, I am deeply confident that the dialogue between the Baghdad Government and the Regional Government here in Erbil will conduct to a satisfactory solution to all those problem for the benefit of the Iraqi people in general and the benefit of the people of the Kurdistan Region.
Question: [Three questions. First one, what is the relationship among the Kurdish parties; second question is implementation of Sinjar Agreement; and the last question is on the families that came back from al-Hol camp and how UNAMI deals with this issue.]
Secretary-General: First of all, I have no intention to interfere in the political discussions inside Kurdistan Region of Iraq. I came to Iraq many times and I came to Kurdistan many times. Before, in the time of Saddam Hussein, I was a member of a global political movement that had a strong solidarity with the Kurdish people. I remember the tragedies created by the [inaudible] and so many others dramatic events in which the Kurdish people have suffered so much. And I was privileged to know very well and to become a friend of both Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani, and to have an enormous respect for their contribution to the new Iraq, and to the progress of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. And I sincerely hope that the different parties will be inspired by the cooperation of these two great men to allow for this region to be able take profit as much as possible of the opportunities that are created now in this new movement of Iraq.
Question: What is your opinion of the Sinjar Agreement?
Secretary-General: We are totally committed to the implementation of the Sinjar Agreement. I discussed it with the Prime Minister, I discussed it today, and indeed, I found a will to make sure that the Sinjar Agreement is fully implemented. We know the obstacles, the difficulties. We know the presence of armed groups there. But we believe the Sinjar Agreement can be implemented and we believe it is essential to fully implement the Sinjar Agreement.
Question: [Question on al-Hol camp]
Secretary-General: We have three UN Agencies that are working in the camp, IOM, UNHCR and UNICEF. We have the Mission following very closely what is happening, and the UN system, Mission and agencies will do everything to support the Iraqi Government in relation to the future and integration of this people in their communities.