The Need for More than Empty Diplomacy

In our previous blog post, we discussed the need for the November 1 meeting between President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to produce tangible results regarding the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA). While this document, which has been reported as the main focus of the meeting, is extremely important to the future of Iraq, this meeting also calls attention to another crucial issue. President Obama has an opportunity to create an ongoing and durable dialogue with Prime Minister Maliki and a mutually beneficial relationship between the two nations.

With mounting turbulence across the Middle East, it is imperative for the United States to cement its relationship with Iraq. However, since the withdrawal of troops in 2011, the United States has neglected its relationship with Iraq, with sparse meetings between officials which have accomplished very little.

Kerry and Zebari meeting on August 15, 2013.

One purpose of the SFA was to establish joint committees to ensure its effective implementation. One of two committees created was the Political and Diplomatic Joint Coordination Committee (JCC), the purpose of which is to “monitor implementation and consult regularly to promote the most effective implementation of this Agreement.” However, the latest meeting of the JCC, held on August 15, 2013 and co-chaired by Secretary of State John Kerry and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, marked only the fourth meeting on the committee since the SFA went into effect on January 1, 2009.

While the August meeting did touch on some significant issues which affect both nations, such as Obama’s decision to extend protection for the Development Fund for Iraq for an additional year, these important discussions were sandwiched between empty conversations about diplomacy. Much of this meeting was centered on pledges from the United States to continue to support Iraq which may just prove to be rhetoric unless President Obama uses his upcoming meeting with Prime Minister Maliki to commit to a productive relationship with Iraq and help produce real change for Iraqis.

Another meeting in 2013 which received quite a bit of hype was the meeting between Vice President Biden and Iraqi Vice President Khudheir Al-Khuzaie on September 25. The course of this discussion was, once again, extremely vague. The White House reported that the two officials discussed a variety of regional and bilateral issues, such as Iraq’s efforts to build stronger relations with its neighbors. Additionally, Vice President Biden expressed his condolences for the families of Iraqis who have been killed in the recent surge of violence the country has faced, and emphasized the U.S. commitment to support Iraq as it fights terrorism, as per the SFA. However, what this means and what actions the United States will take to continue to support Iraq are unclear.

Looking forward, the United States needs to move away from the norm of sparse, empty diplomacy. Iraqi officials have expressed their interest in developing a stronger partnership with the United States. In the coming months, Iraq will continue to face difficulties such as the ongoing violence and supporting the massive influx of Syrian refugees as winter approaches. If the United States is serious about its commitment to Iraq, President Obama needs to use this meeting as an opportunity to abandon empty rhetoric, and lay out a framework that offers effective diplomatic lines of cooperation between Iraq and the U.S. It is eight days before the November 1 meeting, and if you have not yet signed our petition urging President Obama to put Iraq back on the agenda, you can do so by clicking here.

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