16 November 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Special Representative of Secretary-General for Iraq


The short lead time for Iraqi elections in January meant preparations would be “stretched” but still doable, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Ad Melkert, said today at a Headquarters press conference.


The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) was poised to assist in the polls and in Iraq’s other nation-building concerns after the elections, he added, noting that Iraq’s Council of Representatives had agreed last week to a new election law, which, pending talks with the Presidency Council of Iraq in the next two days, would make 18 January 2010 the likely date of the next election.


Although the decision had taken longer than expected, cutting into the election’s preparation time, Mr. Melkert praised the lively parliamentary debate behind the decision and commended the Council of Representatives for adhering to the constitutional deadline to hold elections no later than the end of January.


“We consider that the preparations are quite on the stretch because time between now and probably 18 January is short”, he said, nevertheless stressing that the Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq had built enough capacity to assume its responsibility, which was once borne by the international community.


He said that UNAMI was standing by to assist with those elections, apart from other work -- such as addressing internal boundary disputes between Arabs and Kurds in the country’s Kurdish region.  Those two communities were at odds on the management of the region’s oil resources and on revenue sharing, as well as on constitutional reforms regarding the nature of the federal State of Iraq.


The United Nations was following with great interest the recent rapprochement between the Iraq army and the Kurdish Peshmerga force, facilitated by United States forces, in which the two sides would provide joint security in key areas under dispute, he said.  Those areas were in Nineveh and Diyala Province, and included the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.


As part of its work to foster economic growth and social progress in Iraq, the United Nations had emphasized the need for the Iraqi Government to give certain “strategic considerations” to matters of oil revenues budgetary allocations for the activities of line ministries, he said.  The Organization was also prepared to support the transition to the new Government, which, with help from the Government of the United Kingdom and others, was now being approached in a more comprehensive way than before.


Noting a statement made by Mr. Melkert to the Security Council earlier today, in which he had discussed a possible United Nations plan for normalizing relations between Iraq and rest of region, including Kuwait, a correspondent asked the Special Representative to elaborate on the plan.  Mr. Melkert said a key component was reduced Iraqi reparations to Kuwait.  Other matters, addressed in existing United Nations resolutions, would include border issues, the situation of missing persons, resolving property disputes, and settling the question of access by sea to Iraqi harbours and other aspects regarding maritime borders.


Asked to gauge the level willingness of both parties to settle their disputes, Mr. Melkert did not comment directly on the question, but emphasized the value of quiet diplomacy in settling outstanding issues between Iraq and Kuwait, particularly under the guidance of the United Nations Security Council.


How that would work exactly, and how those elements would be addressed, should really be a matter of conversation between the two sides, and “we stand ready to facilitate each conversation”, he said.  The Security Council was very helpful in “asking or expecting” agreement from the two sides, he added.


Mr. Melkert acknowledged -- in response to a question on allegations of arms arriving from Iran -- that there were reasons for concern in terms of Iraq’s other neighbours.  The Secretary-General had recently sent Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco to Iraq to consult on issues related to supposed interference into Iraqi internal affairs from abroad.  The Permanent Representative of Iraq had recognized that as a “first step” to uncover those responsible for the bombings of August and October.  It was up to the Secretary-General to decide on next steps.


While the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq also had a role to play in helping normalize relations with neighbours other than Kuwait, he said its role was highly circumscribed:  settling issues over water provision, involving Turkey, Iran and Syria; mine clearance, involving Iran; tackling issues relating to the illegal drug trade, involving Iran and Afghanistan; as well as settling issues of border security and the absence of diplomats in Baghdad.


He said that work on human rights was going forward, but under severe security constraints, especially following the attacks in Baghdad in August and October, as well as other incidents, which took place daily in other parts of the country.  However, he cited “encouraging trends” on creating space to address human rights issues, including the rights of women, preventing attacks against police and security officers, and the rights of detainees and suspects.  The UNAMI was addressing those areas in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.


When asked to foresee the Mission’s role after the elections, he said that it would evolve in ways to meet the needs of the Iraqi Government.  So far, it had moved gradually from humanitarian support towards supporting the national development plan.  It was possible that United Nations work in the future would be oriented towards development, and involve more agencies, funds and programmes.  The Mission would also need to strengthen capacity to follow up on internal border disputes.


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For information media • not an official record