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courage is contagious

Viewing cable 09BAGHDAD3316, NEA A/S FELTMAN'S MEETING WITH PRESIDENT TALABANI

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09BAGHDAD3316 2009-12-23 09:09 2010-12-05 12:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
VZCZCXRO3815
OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHDIR RUEHKUK RUEHTRO
DE RUEHGB #3316/01 3570915
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 230915Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5866
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 BAGHDAD 003316 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/22/2029 
TAGS: KDEM PGOV PHUM PREL SY TU EG IR IZ
SUBJECT: NEA A/S FELTMAN'S MEETING WITH PRESIDENT TALABANI 

REF: A. BAGHDAD 3193 
B. BAGHDAD 3157 
C. BAGHDAD 3229 
D. BAGHDAD 3205 
E. BAGHDAD 3196 

Classified By: A/DCM Gary A. Grappo for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 

1. (C) SUMMARY: In a wide-ranging discussion with visiting 
NEA A/S Feltman on December 14, President Talabani 
underscored the importance for Kurds of the POTUS/VPOTUS 
telephone calls with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) 
President Barzani, the December 7 White House statement on 
Iraq's election law and the message conveyed by Secretary 
of Defense Gates. He predicted a tough government 
coalition process in Iraq after the March elections, 
dismissed the significance of the Kurdish Goran ("Change") 
Movement and said the PUK and KDP - which will again run on 
a united Kurdish list - had agreed with PM Maliki's State 
of Law coalition to try to form a front as part of a 
government coalition after elections. On Iran ("a very 
difficult country"), Talabani said the domestic political 
situation is highly unstable and the regime's leadership 
paralyzed: Supreme Leader Khamenei fears further alienating 
the Iranian street, but is hemmed in by regime hardliners 
and cannot afford to appease the opposition, either. Iran's 
multi-ethnic population and the Islamic Revolutionary 
Guard Corps' (IRGC) efforts to expand its writ posed 
additional challenges for the regime. While Syria and Iran 
agreed on much, Syria's attempts to resuscitate Iraq's 
Ba'th Party (a mistake, in Talabani's view) worried 
Tehran. Talabani said Saudi Arabia's effort to re-tether 
Syria to the broader Arab community had prompted closer 
Egyptian-Iraqi ties. The Saudi effort to isolate Iraq from 
its regional neighbors was "misguided", but given the 
personal enmity between King Abdullah and PM Maliki, 
Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement was unlikely if Maliki won 
another term as PM. Talabani said Iraq's second oil bid 
round helped allay concerns about Iraq's credit worthiness, 
highlighted its potential to become a wealthy country and 
gave Iraq a chance to rival Saudi Arabia's oil production 
in 10-15 years. End summary. 

ELECTION LAW AND SECRETARY OF DEFENSE GATES' VISIT 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 

2. (C) Talabani said KRG President Masoud Barzani was "very 
pleased and satisfied" with the recent visit of Secretary 
of Defense Gates (ref A) and his reiteration of the 
December 7 White House statement on the U.S. commitment to 
Iraq's constitution (including Article 140), support for a 
census and pledge to help resolve outstanding Arab-Kurd 
issues. Talabani said that while some actors in the Iraqi 
Kurdistan Region (IKR) claimed the Kurds were "deceived" 
into settling for 43 parliamentary seats as part of the 
recently-completed election law deal (ref B), he and 
Barzani believed long-term relations with the U.S., as 
manifested in the White House statement and the SecDef's 
message, were more important than an additional 2-3 
parliamentary seats. A/S Feltman underscored the U.S. 
commitment to resolve outstanding Arab-Kurd issues in 
accordance with Iraq's constitution and Article 140. 

3. (C) Talabani noted that "some Kurds" failed to 
understand that Article 142 stipulates that any proposed 
changes to the constitution cannot impinge on rights 
otherwise guaranteed to the provinces. (Comment: Mentioned 
in the White House statement of December 7, Article 142 
provides a mechanism for amending the constitution. In 
Qprovides a mechanism for amending the constitution. In 
mentioning it, Talabani likely intended to caution that any 
attempt to amend the constitution in a way that limited 
Kurds' rights to resolve DIBs issues under Article 140 
would be unacceptable. End comment.) While the Bush 
administration had been "very friendly" toward the Kurds, 
it had never publicly expressed support for Kurdish 
interests, Talabani said. (Note: He claimed former VP 
Cheney committed to doing so after Iraq adopted 
hydrocarbons legislation, which has still not occurred. 
End note). Kurds were "very glad" about the 
POTUS/VPOTUS-Barzani calls and December 7 White House 
statement, which represented a commitment by the U.S. to 
them. (Note: As reported ref C, Kurdish, Arab and Turkoman 
interlocutors have publicly and privately expressed the 
fears that the POTUS/VPOTUS calls, together with the 
December 7 statement, represent a deal by which the KRG 
agreed to accept a consensus election law agreement in 
exchange for U.S. support of a process that would lead to 
the eventual annexation of Kirkuk into the IKR. End note.) 


BAGHDAD 00003316 002 OF 005 


GOVERNMENT FORMATION - "THEN WE'LL HAVE PROBLEMS" 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 

4. (C) While the negotiating for a consensus agreement on 
an election law compromise had been difficult, Talabani 
claimed delaying the election until March would mitigate 
weather-related complications during the polling. After 
that would come the effort to form a coalition government. 
"Then we will have problems", Talabani predicted. (Note: 
Responding to Ambassador Hill's question about whether 
Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament Speaker Dr. Kamal Kirkuki would 
participate in the Kurdish Alliance List's negotiating 
team, Talabani characterized Kirkuki as "a foolish man" and 
joked that he was not really a doctor, not really named 
Kamal and was not actually from Kirkuk, as his surname 
suggested. End note.) Responding to A/S Feltman's question 
about whether government formation negotiations would be 
over the position of the president or the presidency 
(encompassing the president and two vice-presidents), 
Talabani said that in accordance with the Iraqi constitution, 
they would only pertain to the office of the 
president. Referring to VP al-Hashimi's unhelpful veto of 
the November 8 election law, Talabani noted that the 
current arrangement by which the president and two vice 
presidents may veto legislation had benefits and drawbacks. 
(Note: It is unclear whether parliament will approve 
holding a constitutional referendum to extend the current 
arrangement by which the president and two vice presidents 
have a veto. End note.) 

5. (C) Talabani said in recent negotiations the PUK and KDP 
reached agreement with PM Maliki's Shi'a-led State of Law 
Alliance (SLA) to form a front as part of a coalition 
government after elections. The bloc with the largest 
number of seats would nominate a candidate for PM. 
(Comment: Consummation of the proposed deal will likely 
depend on how many seats SLA is able to win. End comment.) 
Talabani said the KDP and PUK will again run together on a 
united Kurdish Alliance List (KAL). Nawshirwan Mustafa's 
Goran (aka, "Change") Movement would run on a separate 
list, as would the Kurdish Islamic Union and League of 
Muslims of Kurdistan. 


TALABANI DISMISSES GORAN MOVEMENT'S SIGNIFICANCE 
--------------------------------------------- --- 

6. (C) Responding to A/S Feltman's question about what 
Goran meant for Kurdish internal politics, Talabani 
characterized the movement as an expression of 
dissatisfaction with the status quo. Criticizing Goran's 
"negative agenda", he claimed the movement lacked an 
organized party structure, a program and leadership. 
(Comment: As reported ref D, Goran largely agrees with the 
PUK/KDP's "national" Kurdish agenda; however, unlike the 
PUK/KDP, Goran believes implementation of Article 140 and 
progress on resolving Kirkuk should be the first among 
them. End comment.) Talabani complained that although 
Goran members were part of a group of IKG parliamentarians 
that participated in election law negotiations in Baghdad, 
they later claimed they had been deceived into backing the 
compromise agreement. 

7. (C) Sharply criticizing Goran, he claimed its members 
were "politically immature" and did not understand politics 
outside the IKR. Dismissing Goran's significance for 
internal Kurdish politics, Talabani claimed "thousands" who 
had supported the party in July's KRG parliamentary 
elections had been disappointed by it and were now 
Qelections had been disappointed by it and were now 
leaving. Talabani claimed many of those were joining 
Kurdish Islamic parties, whose ranks were swelling, to 
register opposition to the existing PUK-KDP bipolar order. 

IRAN: "NO SECURITY AND NO STABILITY" 
------------------------------------ 

8. (C) A/S Feltman gave the U.S. assessment that the 
Iranian regime's failure to respond positively to elements 
of the October 1 proposal reflected divisions within the 
regime's leadership and an inability to reach a decision on 
its nuclear aspirations. Talabani cautioned against 
ignoring "the real crisis" Iran's regime now faced. 
Opposition born of the regime's heavy-handed response to 
election protests had clearly demonstrated that the regime 
lacked the support of a majority of Iranians. Supreme 
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei does not want to lose the 
sympathy of the Iranian street, but "cannot afford to 
appease it, either." Talabani expressed his view that 
recent remarks by Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani decrying 

BAGHDAD 00003316 003 OF 005 


"plots" against Iran's nuclear program also constrained 
Khamenei's room for maneuver and threw into stark relief 
the internal political crisis the regime faces. There is 
"no security and no stability in Iran now", Talabani said. 

MULTI-ETHNIC POPULATION CHALLENGES IRAN'S REGIME 
--------------------------------------------- --- 

9. (C) Compounding longstanding fissures in the political 
landscape is Iran's multi-ethnic population, which had 
become an increasingly prominent source of friction, 
according to Talabani. Noting 14 Kurdish intellectuals 
were recently sentenced to death for peacefully opposing 
the Iranian regime, Talabani highlighted what he termed the 
emerging "partisan war" between the regime and ethnic 
Azeris. Talabani flatly said there had been "interference 
in and falsification of" election results by the regime. 
He agreed with A/S Feltman's assessment that it was 
unlikely reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi had legitimately 
lost in his predominantly Azeri home province. Stressing 
the key role Mousavi played during his tenure as Iranian 
Prime Minister in developing ethnically Azeri areas of 
Iran, Talabani said he was genuinely popular and enjoyed 
wide support. Describing the current struggle between 
reformists and the regime, Talabani said Mousavi is "now 
engaged in a fight from which he cannot retreat". 

IRGC ANTAGONIZING IRANIAN ARMY AND BAZAARIS 
------------------------------------------- 

10. (C) A/S Feltman observed that Iran,s Islamic 
Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was taking advantage of 
political instability and the leadership's paralysis to 
expand its writ. Talabani agreed, but noted that while the 
IRGC's leadership is united at the senior levels, 
divisions exist among the rank and file. The IRGC was not 
popular, he said: Iranian Army leaders were unhappy that 
the IRGC, a rival for resources and influence, was 
expanding its domain and Iranian merchants were unhappy 
about the IRGC's increasing involvement in economic 
activities. A/S Feltman underscored potential short-term 
dangers stemming from increased IRGC influence. An example 
was the increased IRGC naval presence in the Persian Gulf, 
where the U.S. and Iranian navies had longstanding 
experience with each other's operations and established 
bridge-to-bridge communication protocols to mitigate 
potential miscommunication. 

11. (C) Agreeing that the IRGC was trying to extend its 
influence, Talabani said the IRGC had to approve the 
appointments of most Iranian ambassadors, including all 
those appointed to "important states". He stressed the 
importance of differentiating between "what they (IRGC 
leaders) say and what is in their hearts". In their 
hearts, IRGC leaders are afraid; however, they adopt a 
maximalist public line in the belief it will help the 
regime reach the best possible deal with the U.S. and 
Europe on the nuclear program and other issues. Talabani 
attributed significant changes in the IRGC's leadership 
cadre to concerns about loyalty stemming from the 
widely-repeated view that 70 percent of IRGC officers 
voted for reformist former Iranian President Mohammad 
Khatami in 1997, and presumably remain sympathetic to the 
reform movement. 

IRAN "A VERY DIFFICULT COUNTRY" 
------------------------------- 

12. (C) Noting that the U.S. had pursued bilateral and 
multilateral approaches, but had not been able to prompt 
Iran's regime to respond, A/S Feltman asked Talabani what 
QIran's regime to respond, A/S Feltman asked Talabani what 
advice he might offer. After a long pause, Talabani sighed 
and conceded that Iran is "a very difficult country". 
While some Iranians claimed nuclear weapons were 
un-Islamic, the regime was making "quick progress" towards 
acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Talabani said he 
believed there were more secret sites than the recently 
disclosed one at Qom, and assessed that the Iranian regime 
sought to approach turn-key status with respect to its ability 
to initiate production of nuclear weapons. He noted the 
potency 
of the nuclear program as a "national issue" with which the 
regime could rally the Iranian people and deflect attention 
from shortcomings in domestic programs. Citing increased 
Russian pressure on Iran, Talabani said he thought U.S. 
policies had been "wise." He offered that it would be 
helpful if China reached a similar decision with respect to 
its willingness to further pressure Iran, and suggested 
that increased Iraqi oil production could help mitigate 

BAGHDAD 00003316 004 OF 005 


China's dependence on Iranian oil, potentially freeing 
China to pursue a harder policy on Iran's nuclear program. 

IRAN-IRAQ-SYRIA RELATIONS 
------------------------- 

13. (C) While Iranian leaders' views on individual Shi'a 
Iraqi leaders were "not homogeneous" (some supported former 
PM Jaafari, others supported PM Maliki), they are united in 
their desire for a Shi'a-led government and fear of a 
resurgent Ba'th Party. Talabani said a contact told him 
during his last visit to Iran that Muhammad Nassif 
Khayrbek, the former head of Syria's General Intelligence 
Directorate and a senior advisor to President Bashar 
al-Asad recently visited Tehran and proposed that Iran and 
Syria cooperate to bring Iraq's Ba'th Party back to power 
as "a bridge between Iran and Syria". (Note: Talabani flew 
to Iran on/about November 22 to appeal for the lives of 
Iranian Kurds sentenced to death. End note.) A/S Feltman 
noted that while Iran and Syria agree on much, a major 
point of divergence is Iraq. Talabani agreed, noting that 
Syria heavily supported Iraqi Ba'thists, while Iran opposed 
them. Syria is actively working to change Iranian leaders' 
minds; however, Syria's support for the Iraqi National 
Movement coalition that includes, among others, former PM 
Ayad Allawi (secular Shi'a) and Saleh al-Mutlaq (Sunni with 
Ba'thist ties) "worried Iran." 

14. (C) Talabani said the Syrian regime approached him one 
month ago through a friend to ask that he help mediate 
between Syria and Iraq to reduce tensions stoked by PM 
Maliki's accusation of Syrian complicity in recent bomb 
attacks against GOI facilities in Baghdad. The emissary 
said Talabani should contact President Bashar al-Asad 
directly, and that Syria was willing to "cease all support 
for action against Iraq" if an accommodation could be 
reached. A/S Feltman noted that the U.S. was trying to 
identify ways to improve relations with Syria. Talabani 
stressed that if there were any improvement on the 
Israeli-Palestinian track, better U.S.-Syria relations 
could be possible. Recalling an exchange several years ago 
with Bashar in which he asked what Syria wanted from the 
U.S., Talabani said Bashar answered that he wanted the 
Golan back and a stable Iraq that would not work against 
Syria, in that order. Talabani said he asked Bashar if the 
order could be reversed, pointing out that strong 
Syria-Iraq ties could help Damascus with respect to Israel. 

SYRIA ERRS IN TRYING TO RESTORE IRAQ'S BA'TH PARTY 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 

15. (C) On Syria's support for those conducting attacks in 
Iraq, Talabani said Syria made "a big mistake" in thinking 
it could return the Ba'th Party to power in Iraq, which was 
their ultimate goal. The nadir of Syrian-Iraqi relations 
coincided with the period in which the Ba'th ruled Damascus 
and Baghdad. Syrian leaders wanted to play the role of 
"fraternal helpers" in restoring Iraqi Ba'thists to power. 
Baghdad's offer to reopen pipelines, supply gas and open 
points of entry on the Syria-Iraq border had been viewed 
suspiciously by Damascus, which did not believe a 
Maliki-led government would honor such commitments. 

16. (C) A/S Feltman noted that in conversations with Syria, 
the SARG always raised Iraq. The U.S. recently asked Syria 
to stop broadcasts from Damascus of Ba'thist-backed 
satellite channels glorifying terrorism and violence, but 
had not seen any action. Talabani offered that Syria was 
Qhad not seen any action. Talabani offered that Syria was 
waiting for the results of Iraq's upcoming elections, in 
which they hoped a strong Sunni bloc would emerge, before 
making any decisions on its Iraq policy. Noting that the 
SARG was good at collecting cards, A/S Feltman asked 
Talabani when they might actually play their hand. 
Talabani replied that while Hafez al-Asad had been an 
excellent player, Bashar was still young. Referring to 
Bashar's leadership style, he said Arabs jokingly described 
Syria as a "Jamluka", a play on the Arabic words 
"Jamahuriya" (Libya's "state of the masses") and "mamluka" 
("monarchy"). 

SAUDI-SYRIA THAW PROMPTS CLOSER EGYPTIAN-IRAQI TIES 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 

17. (C) A/S Feltman asked Talabani what the visit to 
Damascus in October by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah after a 
five-year hiatus in Saudi-Syrian relations meant for Iraq. 
Talabani laughingly said King Abdullah told him "You and 
Iraq are in my hearts, but that man (Maliki) is not". 
Citing Maliki's "failed promises" to Saudi leaders, 

BAGHDAD 00003316 005 OF 005 


Talabani said Abdullah and the Saudis refused to deal with 
the PM, despite U.S. attempts to mediate. Syria, too, 
blamed Maliki for Iraq's anti-Syria policies and found it 
difficult to work with him. According to Talabani, Syrian 
officials told Maliki during the latter's most recent visit 
to Damascus (shortly before the August 19 bombings in 
Baghdad) that they were supporting Iraq's Ba'th Party, 
further stoking Maliki's fear of Ba'thist conspiracies 
against him. 

18. (C) Talabani said King Abdullah is trying to re-tether 
Syria to the broader Arab community, an initiative Egypt 
opposes. Partly as a consequence, Egyptian-Iraqi relations 
had improved. Riyadh tried to pressure Cairo not to 
facilitate Maliki's recent visit to Egypt, but the visit 
had come off. A/S Feltman offered that King Abdullah's 
visit to Damascus and the possibility of warming ties 
between Saudi Arabia and Syria was likely a factor in 
encouraging Egyptian ties with Iraq, to help counterbalance 
the Saudi effort. Noting 
Riyadh's important regional role, Talabani said Saudi 
Arabia was actively working to prevent Iraq from developing 
relationships with its regional neighbors, and claimed it 
had pressured Kuwait to backtrack on initial agreements 
with Iraq on issues dating to the Saddam-era. Despite 
Saudi opposition, though, Qatar and Bahrain were seeking 
improved relations with Iraq. 

SAUDI-IRAQI RAPPROCHEMENT UNLIKELY IF MALIKI PM AGAIN 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 

19.(C) Talabani characterized the Saudi policy as 
misguided, noting that Iraq could play a positive role in 
attenuating tension between the Saudi government and its 
largely Shi'a opposition. A/S Feltman said the U.S. would 
encourage the Saudis to revisit their Iraq policy after 
upcoming 
Iraqi elections in March. Talabani offered that if Maliki 
remained PM, things would likely remain as is since the 
enmity was personal; however, with a different PM - even 
another Shi'ite like ISCI's Ammar al-Hakim or Allawi - 
there was a chance for positive change. He cautioned that 
such an effort could be hurt if the Saudis' efforts to 
support the emergence of a strong Sunni bloc in the Iraqi 
parliament failed, which he thought likely. 

20. (C) Talabani assessed Turkey's role with respect to 
Iraq as generally good and said his relations with Turkey 
were "excellent". Noting improved relations between Ankara 
and the KRG, he pointed to Turkish FM Gul's recent visit to 
Erbil. Turkey could play a positive role in the region and 
Ankara's policy towards Kurds (Iraq) and Alawites (Syria) 
was generally positive, despite opposition from the Turkish 
General Staff and some quarters of Turkey's parliament. He 
offered that Turkey could play a positive role with respect 
to Syria. 

SECOND OIL BID ROUND 
-------------------- 

21. (C) Talabani expressed surprise that companies from the 
U.S., which "liberated Iraq and therefore earned the 
right", had not won more contracts during Iraq's 
recently-concluded Second Petroleum Licensing Round ("bid 
round"), held December 11-12 in Baghdad. (Note: As reported 
ref E, only three of the seven pre-qualified U.S. companies 
attended the bid round and only one (Occidental Petroleum) 
submitted a bid. No U.S. companies were awarded contracts 
during the second bid round; however, ExxonMobil and 
Occidental won contracts in the first round potentially 
allowing them to develop nearly three million barrels per 
Qallowing them to develop nearly three million barrels per 
day of future Iraqi oil production, representing nearly a 
third of the potential total increase in Iraqi oil 
production from the two bid rounds. End note.) Ambassador 
Hill underscored that U.S. oil and gas service companies 
were expected to garner significant business as part of the 
effort to increase Iraqi oil production under the new 
contracts. He also noted that with the second bid round, 
companies from all five UNSC permanent members had 
production contracts in Iraq. Noting that Iraq's oil 
production could rival Saudi Arabia's in 10-15 years, 
Talabani said the second bid round would help allay 
concerns about Iraq's credit worthiness and highlight its 
potential to become a wealthy country. 

22. (U) A/S Feltman cleared on this message. 
FORD