UN Representative to Iraq Visits Tehran to Talk Erbil-Baghdad Relations

UN Secretary-General’s special representative for Iraq Ján Kubis has held a meeting with Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran, ISNA reports.

During the meeting, the two sides discussed the latest developments in Iraq, the importance of promoting stability and security in this country, and the need to continue to confront the remnants of ISIS elements. Zarif and Kubis also conferred on the upcoming parliamentary elections in Iraq and the need for the participation of all political groups and parties in the elections.

Kubis also met with Ali Akbar Velayati, top aide to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Kubis discuss Baghdad and Erbil ties, political developments in the Kurdistan Region, upcoming Iraqi elections, and a fundraising conference to be held in Kuwait in February, the UN Mission in Iraq said in a statement.

Velayati said he held a “positive and constructive” meeting with the UN envoy. He said the two sides were “satisfied” that Iraq could again save its “territorial integrity” after the Iraqi government ended Kurdistan’s independence bid, according to semi-official Tasnim news agency.

The two agreed that Iraq has introduced an example of democracy in the Arab region, Velayati stated during a press conference following their meeting. He added that Iran supports Iraq holding elections as scheduled for May 12.

The Iraqi and Kurdish prime ministers have met twice in January after repeated calls by the international community, including the United Nations, for dialogue between them to resolve their differences after Kurdistan’s independence referendum as well as on longstanding issues like oil and the status of the disputed areas. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Monday received former KRG Prime Minister Barham Salih, who is now head of the newly-founded Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ).

The two supported resolving the issues on the basis of the Iraqi constitution, according to a statement from Abadi’s office. Salih said on his twitter that he requested Abadi pay the salaries of the KRG’s health and education ministries at the earliest time and to order the Kurdistan Region’s airspace reopened to international flights after its closure in late September. Abadi stated that action on the airports and the salaries would be taken once legal procedures are complete, in line with Iraqi federal laws.

The Iraqi parliament on Monday voted to lifted sanctions imposed on Kurdish banks by the Central Bank of Iraq in November that mainly affected foreign currency transactions. Baghdad also sent the Kurdistan Region $210 million as payment for health and education employees, officials revealed. But in order to distribute the money has not yet been issued by Iraq.

Iran is considered to hold a lot of influence in Baghdad. Tehran opposed Kurdistan’s independence referendum and helped Iraq impose control over Kirkuk and other disputed areas in October, via allied Shi’ite militias. Tehran is also concerned about security threats it believes emanate from the Kurdistan Region. Velayati earlier this week stated that Iran has to “defend” itself outside of its borders, including in Iraq and Syria, or else the United States and Israel will try to fight Iran inside the country.

He claimed that if Iran did not help Iraq put an end to the Kurdistan referendum, which he considered an American and Zionist plot, it would have risked the presence of Israeli troops in the Kurdistan Region on its borders.

Iran has for long described the prospect of an independent Kurdistan as a second Israel in the Middle East. Erbil and Tel Aviv have no direct diplomatic relations, but the two sides enjoy historical ties.