03 November 2007

Remarks at the expanded meeting of Iraq’s neighbours

Ban Ki-moon

I thank the Government of Turkey for hosting this gathering and for the warm welcome and hospitality accorded to us.

It is an honour for me to join you at this important meeting. I look forward to continuing and strengthening our joint efforts to promote peace, cooperation and well-being in Iraq and the region.

Iraq today is faced with an exceptionally complex series of overlapping sectarian, political and ethnic challenges. Violence aimed at the civilian population and Government officials continues to impede efforts to establish stability in the country and hinders national dialogue. Extremists accelerate polarization in the country. Increasing levels of displacement add to an already alarming humanitarian crisis.

At the same time, an opportunity might be emerging. September and October saw the lowest number of Iraqi casualties for the year. Several political and security pacts reached during that period appear to be contributing to this effect. This trend marks a political opportunity to transform military-political developments into a basis for broader national reconciliation.

It is the central responsibility of the Government of Iraq to advance national reconciliation and to create conditions for a more stable political and security situation. Iraq’s neighbours can reinforce the work of the Government of Iraq. In the face of the unrelenting challenges and potential changes, neighbouring countries, and those in the region, remain vital for stability in Iraq. The magnitude of the challenges confronting the Government requires a comprehensive approach embraced by all actors, regional and international.

It is in the best interest of each Member State gathered here to contain the deterioration of the situation in Iraq. While there are numerous competing views and national interests, strong international efforts to counter the unfolding crisis in Iraq are critical. No one wishes to see instability engulf the region or spread to their country. It is precisely because political stalemate and deep mistrust are not limited to Iraq that we must strengthen communication and cooperation. At the same time, genuine efforts by Iraq’s neighbours must be matched by clear assurances from the Government of Iraq that it takes seriously their legitimate concerns.

For this purpose, the dialogue started at the first meeting of this group in Sharm el-Sheikh, and in the working groups thereafter, is encouraging and should be capitalized upon.

The energy working group that met here in Istanbul provided the basis for discussions on investment in Iraq’s energy sector, while allowing Iraq to outline infrastructure needs. Progress was made in reaching bilateral electricity agreements, discussing a regional electricity grid, and addressing many other areas of energy sector work, including the needs of the oil sector.

The working group on displaced Iraqis, which met in Amman, established procedures for cooperation between Iraq and refugee host countries and secured pledges of assistance. The Iraqi cabinet decision to provide financial assistance to refugee host countries, in accordance with the commitment made in Geneva last April, is a welcome and much needed development. Now it is time to finalize the delivery mechanism for this support, so that vital assistance to the refugee population is bolstered immediately.

The border security working group that met in Damascus made important strides to outline cooperation in the exchange of security and intelligence information, developing enhanced communication at the borders, preventing incitement of violence and even encouraging political participation inside Iraq. The importance of these actions, particularly the need to secure both sides of the border, cannot be over emphasized.

The series of incidents along the border between Turkey and Iraq demonstrate the importance of continued strong engagement to address all concerns. It is clearly unacceptable that Iraq’s territory is used to mount cross-border attacks, and we recognize Turkey’s security concerns. The Governments of Iraq and Turkey must work hard to address this challenge, and I am confident that a mutually acceptable solution can be found.

The objective of our conference is to capitalize on the progress made to date, consider tangible next steps and establish a mechanism that facilitates communication and helps maintain a coherent direction. Regional engagement in the context of Iraq requires the efforts of all of us. It is in strong bilateral work that real progress will be made. It is my hope that, as a result, border security liaison officers can be identified and deployed by Iraq and its neighbours. The funding mechanisms between Iraq and refugee host nations should be finalized. Investments in Iraq’s energy sector could be further developed.

Since the first expanded neighbours meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, the United Nations has been given a strengthened mandate in Iraq under Security Council resolution 1770 (2007). I welcome the establishment of the support mechanism with which we can enhance our support to the Government of Iraq, particularly in facilitating national and regional dialogue, as well as in humanitarian and development assistance.

This meeting of Iraq, its neighbours, the region, and members of the international community is timely. Events in Iraq, along its borders and in the region require focused attention and serious effort. It is my hope that today, we establish a basis for concrete action items aimed at building confidence and strengthening cooperation. The people of Iraq and the region expect and deserve this from our efforts.