FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thank you, Mr. President.
I’d like to thank the Secretary General for his report and Special Representative Staffan de Mistura and his staff for their exceptional service and performance every day in Iraq. I want to thank also Iraq’s Ambassador Al Bayati for his important remarks and I want to congratulate your government and the people of Iraq for the important and positive progress that you have achieved of late.
With our shared strategic interests at stake, thousands of brave Americans in harm’s way, and the future of millions of Iraqis in the balance, Iraq remains an issue of the great importance to the United States—but one on which the new Administration will steer a new course.
The American and coalition troops, and international diplomatic and aid workers and UNAMI who are all focused on building a future of peace, security, and stability in Iraq have performed magnificently, and we salute their accomplishments and sacrifices.
Both Iraqi and American interests will best be served by safely and responsibly redeploying U.S. forces from Iraq, by supporting Iraqis as they assume full responsibility for their sovereign nation, and by encouraging other countries to join in helping to stabilize the region and to deploy a broader array of tools to eliminate the ongoing threat of al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorism.
With the end of the coalition’s mandate on December 31, we marked a new beginning with Iraq—as a friend and a partner working to establish open and democratic rule and to advance peace and cooperation with its neighbors and the wider world. Even so, a sovereign Iraq continues to look to the international community for support in these areas. And we encourage member states to help Iraq strengthen its democratic institutions, bring its displaced citizens back home, strengthen its democracy and respect for the rule of law, and deepen its productive relations with all of its neighbors even as it works to continue to strengthen and build its economy.
Mr. President, the United States will never forget the enormous price this institution paid in Iraq and will always honor the ultimate sacrifice made by Sergio Vieira de Mello and his colleagues, who gave their lives in the attempt to build a new Iraq and who dedicated themselves throughout their careers to the fight for a more peaceful, lawful, and decent world.
We salute the critically important work that the United Nations continues to play in Iraq. Under the leadership of Special Representative de Mistura and at the invitation of the Iraqi government, UNAMI has expanded and enhanced its presence in Iraq. Its work is as far-ranging as it is important: advancing national reconciliation, helping to resolve disputes over internal boundaries, ensuring that Iraqi elections are free and fair, and helping those whose lives have been upended by the turmoil of war, including refugees and the internally displaced. Mr. Special Representative, on behalf of the United States, I am proud to offer our full support to UNAMI's work. The United States is grateful to you and your staff for your accomplishments and resolve.
Let me spend a few moments on one development in which UNAMI’s efforts have been particularly helpful. Iraq, as we’ve just been discussing, recently held provincial elections in which the nation’s voters chose new councils in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. That free and peaceful vote, with its widely respected legitimacy, was a heartening moment in the evolution of Iraqi democracy. Voter participation was high; candidates from all of Iraq’s major parties and communities ran hard; and the elections were unmarred by boycotts, significant violence, or major disruptions.
The Independent High Electoral Commission rose to the challenge here, and UNAMI played an important supporting role, providing technical assistance and advice rooted in long U.N. experience. We most importantly congratulate the government and the people of Iraq who deserve the greatest credit for this stirring demonstration of peaceful political change. I was personally moved by the sight of the Iraqi police officers who helped secure the polling places and protect ordinary voters determined to cast their ballots. We hope that with the help of UNAMI and the international community, Iraqis will be similarly encouraged by the national elections that are to be held later this year.
Mr. President, I would like to draw particular attention today to an area where more work and urgency is required from all of us: the plight of millions of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons who constitute one of the largest refugee populations in the world today. Iraqi refugees face increasingly difficult circumstances in their host countries: rising food prices, rents they can no longer meet, and dwindling personal resources. All of these conditions have heightened the specter of poverty and despair.
So even as we commend host countries for their generosity, we urge the international community to intensify its efforts to take in the desperate and the vulnerable; to ensure that NGOs, host countries, and others can provide dignified lives and sheltering havens for those already in their care; to help UNHCR, UNICEF, and WFP provide additional aid to the needy; and to assist the government of Iraq to develop the capacities and conditions that will let those uprooted by war return home in peace.
Mr. President, the United States will support Iraq’s continuing development as a democratic country in which all communities can join in shaping the political, social, and economic life of a nation that protects the human and civil rights of all of its citizens, a nation that lives in peace with its neighbors and the international community.
The United States will move responsibly and safely to reduce our military presence in Iraq. Our bilateral security agreement with Iraq will frame the path ahead. And the process of redeploying our combat troops will be conducted in consultation with the Government of Iraq and with its support.
This carefully managed commitment to ending the war in no way diminishes America’s long-term support for a sovereign, stable, democratic and prosperous Iraq that is a force for peace in a turbulent region. Indeed, we have already signed a broad agreement with Iraq that sets out a long-term program for cooperation in fields ranging from education to trade to technology to common efforts to meet the energy challenges of the new century. The United States and the government of Iraq are already working to establish a strong foundation for future cooperation—and an ongoing partnership that benefits both of our free and sovereign peoples and the region.
Our approach to Iraq must indeed also be understood in a larger regional context. The responsible draw-down of U.S. forces in Iraq will give us additional flexibility in Afghanistan. At the same time, the U.S. will vigorously pursue a comprehensive strategy in the Middle East. That strategy will address the security needs of Israel and the legitimate political and economic aspirations of the Palestinian people; it will seek to end Iran’s ambition to acquire an illicit nuclear capability and its support for terrorism; it will aim to encourage both Iran and Syria to become constructive regional actors; and it will deepen our ties with our partners in the region to pursue common efforts to secure a broad and sustained peace.
Mr. President, this is a new course, but it is the right one—for the future of Iraq, the stability of the region, and ultimately for our shared security and well-being.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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