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Newsmaker: Hoshyar Zebari

June 4, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: Now to our Newsmaker interview with interim Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. His selection for this post was announced Tuesday, along with the rest of the interim government. Zebari also served on the Iraqi Governing Council as its foreign minister.

Last week, the U.S. and Great Britain proposed a United Nations resolution which endorsed the transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government. But several issues remained unresolved, including: the scope of Iraqi sovereignty after the hand-over on June 30; control of U.S. and other international forces in Iraq after that transition; and how long international troops will remain in Iraq. Interim Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was at the United Nations weighing in on the draft security council resolutions.

Mr. Foreign Minister, welcome.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: Thank you.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you’ve met with Kofi Annan, other members of the U.N. leadership, and delegations from member states. What have you been telling them about your new government’s needs?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: Well, I did make our position very clear that… yesterday at the open session of the Security Council, and yesterday and today, through our bilateral talks with other members of the Security Council. In fact, we have been making four points: That this resolution is very important for the Iraqi people. And we have more interest in seeing a good solid resolution that would reflect truly full sovereignty for the new Iraqi interim government. We need the language of this resolution to be clear and unambiguous. And the changes to this really should not be cosmetic. We would very much like to see a clear departure from previous resolutions that reinforced the occupation of Iraq.

Second point: We want to have a clear relation between the Iraqi interim sovereign government and the multinational forces. We do need these forces to stay to remain there. It is an Iraqi need, more than anything else. But at the same time, we really would like that this relation to be organized in order to avoid any misunderstanding or friction. Now, we are not for giving any specific time for the withdrawal of these forces, because this would depend on our success to build our forces; also not to give our adversaries and enemies any tool really to undermine the process.

The other element: We as Iraqis want really more visible control over our resources and assets, and for Iraqis to be more … in a more prominent position in this monitoring an advisory board that supervised Iraqi funds and assets.

Also we have said all along, really you cannot work in a vacuum. I mean, you have a team mold. You cannot work and operate without a legal framework and before we did pass that transitional administrative law that really organized our political lives from now until then, until there is a permanent constitution that is written. These are the main points, actually, that we have been making and also over the language. We want a clear language that really will convince most of the Iraqi people that this transfer is real and genuine.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you’ve laid out those requirements for your new government, what you’d like to see happen. What are other people saying that might provide some disagreement? What contradictions to those points are you hearing at the United Nations?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: No, the response has been very positive so far. And actually today the United States and Britain did make a new revised version of the draft resolution that included some of our views, which was a good sign, actually, that our views are taken into consideration. And also through our discussions with other members of the Security Council, we are seeing some positive responses. And here, in fact, we have told all of them that we appreciate your help and support for this resolution and for consolidating Iraqi sovereignty.

But we need an active participation and support of you and the stabilization and the reconstruction of Iraq. We as Iraqis know better, you know, what we need. And these are our demands. And we don’t expect any of you really to act or to behave more Iraqi than us. And I got the feeling that there is a good atmosphere, in fact. And hopefully next week there is a possibility that some results will come out of this, after all the views are taken into consideration.

RAY SUAREZ: Are prominent U.N. members like China, France, Germany, Russia, that opposed the American invasion of Iraq now pushing you for more sovereignty than your young government is able to handle?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: No, I think there is an understanding that sovereignty either has to be full sovereignty or no sovereignty. I mean, just like a pregnant woman is either pregnant or not pregnant. So … in fact, the full sovereignty does not contradict, in our view, under many historical experiences with the presence of foreign forces as long as they are there with your consent, as long as they are there with your approval and invitation. I think we have made that clear.

With other members, I think that when they hear the Iraqi views, they have modified their position a great deal. And we’re realistic in influencing their position to support this new draft resolution in a positive way. And also some of them really have very good ideas that could be included without jeopardizing the essence of the resolution.

RAY SUAREZ: In an interview today, the American Secretary of State Colin Powell, when asked about the nature of Iraqi sovereignty and the continued American presence in Iraq, said, “There could be a situation where we have to act, and there may be a disagreement, and we have to act to protect ourselves and accomplish a mission.” It sounds like he’s implying that there’s going to be a lot more American freedom of movement than I’m hearing from leaders of the new Iraqi government?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: No, we fully understand, actually, the military requirements. And I myself have some military background; I fully understand those decisions. What we are saying, that definitely the MNF, or the multinational force — the coalition forces on the ground who are in harm’s way, who are facing danger, threats every day — definitely should feel free to respond or to react to all this, because it’s a life-threatening situation, and we understand that. What we are saying is, if there is going to be major offensive military operation that would have serious political and security consequences for the country as a whole, we believe that the Iraqi government view should be listened to and followed.

RAY SUAREZ: Does this resolution need to be passed before the June 30 hand-over?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: Well, the sooner it’s passed, actually the better. I mean, that is our position also because we need that resolution. This will endorse the formation of the new interim government very clearly, and it will have an international support. We need that, actually, for our work as well. And also it will have an impact, in my view, on the overall political security situation in Iraq.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you feel confident that at the end of this process there will be a resolution that everyone can sign on to fully, both states that supported and opposed the incursion into Iraq?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: I believe the environment is very conducive to reach such a conclusion. And from my contacts, I have met almost all the members of the Security Council, except a few which I’m going to meet early next week. But in fact the response, the reaction is far more positive than what I anticipated and expected.

RAY SUAREZ: There’s been a lot of attention during this week with the announcement of the new government of how the ministers were chosen, from what segments of Iraqi society they were chosen, and who got to do the choosing. I know you can’t speak for other ministers, but how were you tapped for this position?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: Yes. Well, I can speak for myself and for others. In fact, this process was a collaborative process between the coalition provisional authority and the governing council and the U.N. special envoy Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi. And they all participated in the selection of the new leaders, for the head of state, for the prime minister post, and the 33 ministries.

This cabinet is, in my view, the most representative in Iraq history. For the first time in the history of the region, you have six women ministers. And also from the old cabinet, in fact, only six or seven remained out of twenty-five. And now you have 33 ministers. So a large number were newcomers — qualified people, and talented, I would say. Also, in fact, for my selection was based on the basis of the work I have done before. And according to this mechanisms, in fact, I was chosen and reinstated like other colleagues who some of them retained their post, to continue serving our country.

RAY SUAREZ: Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, thanks for joining us.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: Thank you.