Remarks by Vice President Biden at the Conclusion of a Meeting of the U.S.-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee
11:47 A.M. (Local)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Mr. Prime Minister, my distinguished colleagues, as I stated at the outset, both our countries are now launching on a new phase of this relationship. What we discussed here today was not totally new, but what we discussed here today was a way forward.
We will continue to keep our promises as we have thus far. We will in fact, as I said at the outset, draw down our military forces by the end of December in agreement with the so-called SOFA that was signed some years ago. And we’re embarking on a new -- and I think we learned today, or we discussed today a new and a comprehensive civilian relationship between the United States and Iraq as sovereign partners in a way that will benefit, as I said at the outset, not only Iraq but the region and in turn the world.
Our civilian mission in Iraq -- I think it’s worth saying this -- is sized. It is big, as the Foreign Minister said. But it’s sized to meet the request and the obligations and the promises we’ve made. The reason it’s as big as it is, and I say this for American audiences as well as Iraqi audiences is because in order to fully meet the obligations that the strategic framework agreement calls for, in order for Iraq to meet its incredible promise, incredible opportunities that it has before it, that we will have in country, on hand for direct relationships -- and the last thing we just discussed is how can we make these coordinating meetings more available, more regularized and more engaging because there’s so much opportunity and so much work to be done. So we will have in country, which we don't in every country, on hand experts, U.S. experts in every one of the fields that we discussed here today.
It is not a matter of us having the luxury of being able to send -- or Iraq -- diplomats and experts back and forth across the world. If we’re going to get this job done together, we need to have people on the spot, on the job, in place, immediately accessible for meetings and emergencies relating to their areas they're concerned with in a matter of hours, not a matter of weeks’ planning. So that's the reason why we’re going to have in country not only diplomatic experts but experts on trade, agriculture, education, health care, transportation, rule of law, energy, security and the list goes on because I don't know about you, Mr. Prime Minister, but occasionally I at home have to explain why we have such a large embassy here. Why.
We are here for one reason and only one reason: to assist in the development of the capacity of this great nation. Because as you develop, as you reach your potential which has been stinted by -- stunted by Saddam and terror following it, it is good for the whole world, it will bring stability to this region. That is our sole interest in Iraq. Period. End of story.
And so in the coming months, the various joint coordinating committees in order to implement what we’ve set out here, as the Foreign Minister said earlier, is going to require some traditional, normal written agreements that accommodate all of the people we have here. And we appreciate that cooperation. We appreciate that is not -- that's what normally occurs where we have these bilateral relationships. But it just is bigger here because the need is greater and the request is more consequential.
As we have seen today our relationship continues to evolve in a positive way, notwithstanding the naysayers in your country and the naysayers in our country. Every year, every visit I have made here, the cooperation evolves -- is more positive. It has. It’s difficult. But it is constantly moving in a direction that is forward.
We’ve in both our countries had to overcome certain misperceptions in both our countries, and we’ll continue to have to do that. In my country some question, is this worth it? Why are we continuing to expend so much energy and money? In your country I’m sure it’s the same thing you hear. Why do you need these guys? Why do you want them around?
The truth of the matter is -- the truth of the matter is I think you have demonstrated and we have demonstrated jointly that it’s worth it. It is worth it as costly and as difficult and sometimes as controversial as it is.
An example, the first meeting of this joint committee, this high committee was one that took place in January of 2009 at the time the SOFA was put forward. If I’m not mistaken, you and your colleagues suggested, Mr. Prime Minister, that it couldn’t just be about security. It had to be more. And so we set this committee up -- not this committee, we agreed on having a long-term, strategic agreement that went well beyond security. So the first meeting took place in January of 2009. The number of committees that existed under this umbrella committee were relatively small. It met then again in July of 2009 in a new administration.
If I’m not mistaken, Mr. Prime Minister, it was your suggestion and a very good one that we increase -- we increase the interchange that this committee had, increase the areas of -- that this committee was going to cover. It was suggested that we talk about student visas. It was suggested that we expand and have a committee relating to trade and commerce, et cetera. It continued to grow. It continued to expand as the needs became apparent and the help was available.
Today, in this meeting, the Foreign Minister and our ambassador agreed that, well, we should have another committee -- another committee within this committee based on security.
The point I’m trying to make is both our people should understand that this is of the mutual benefit to each of us and to the region, and as it continues to grow, the opportunities -- we stand ready to the extent that you want assistance. We stand ready to be of assistance with expertise that we have. Had you not been under the thumb of Saddam Hussein for so long and the victim of terror for so long, you would not need this help. You all have the capacity. You all have the capacity to do everything that need be done here. But as one of you said today, you’re kind of starting from scratch. There has not been the availability of these institutions to have developed and changed and grown over the past half a century as they have in our country. We have no doubt that your capacity is as unlimited as your natural resources.
As was pointed out here today, already a great deal has been done. Most people in both -- I’ll speak for my country. Most people in our country think that bulk of what we’ve done relates to security. Well, as was pointed out by our colleagues today, the United States has completed nearly 1,800 projects in Iraq’s health sector valued at over $800 million -- close to $1 billion -- renovating 133 primary health care centers; providing critical emergency maternity care, along with medical and dental equipment. With the government of Iraq, we’ve jointly built, renovated and expanded hospitals in Basra, Baku [sic] and so on throughout this country. We’ve just launched a $74 million project to improve primary health care at 360 clinics in over 18 provinces. That has nothing to do with self-interest. It has to do with the needs of the people of Iraq because for you to reach your potential, you not only need an educated population but a healthy population. So I admit most of this is directed -- what I’m saying today -- toward my citizens.
The United States government has invested over $100 million in Iraq’s transportation infrastructure, helping update regulations and standards in Iraq’s civilian aviation authority. Iraq’s civilian air traffic controllers -- $60 million; dispatching systems for the Iraqi railways, et cetera.
So the generic point that I want to make is the one you all have made, and we’ve it made in private, but the press should know -- the press should know that this is about developing a people’s capacity, it’s about developing what every people in the world are entitled to, the opportunity to choose their own future and have a chance to realize their great potential.
So I want to thank everyone involved in preparing for this meeting. It’s clear that a lot of work remains to be done to make it a success. I’ve been impressed as I’ve just outlined by the progress that has been made to date, and I expect even greater progress to come. Now it’s time for us to get to work in the coming months the various joint coordinating committees are going to meet and meet more regularly in order to implement the plans we’ve discussed here today. The menu is very large, very large. The opportunities are immense.
As you’ve heard we have big plans. Just to cite a few. We’re going to continue to expand our trade engagement, working hard to connect U.S. and Iraqi businesses in order to benefit the economies of both our countries, as well as connecting the rest of the world’s businesses with Iraq. We don't look at this as an opportunity for the United States to have business opportunities. Again, everyone will benefit the more engaged, the more countries, the more Arab, as well as non-Arab countries that are engaged in -- and European countries engaged with Iraq.
The fact is that we are demonstrating our commitment, 85 American companies are going to -- with a market capitalization of $1 trillion recently participated in a trade fair here in Baghdad. We’re going to expand exchange opportunities to connect agro-entrepreneurs with U.S. counterparts to improve agriculture as was mentioned here earlier today. We’re going to collaborate to improve, as was your idea in 2009, Mr. Prime Minister, that we should have a joint committee on local law enforcement and police training. We’re going to launch a new security, defense and joint coordinating committee to serve as an important forum for determining the future contours of our security relationship, made jointly and made as equal sovereigns.
As I stated before, our nations are embarking on a new phase of our relationship. Our military forces are going to draw down. There will still be security concerns, but we are confident your government is fully capable of handling those internal security concerns. And by far from leaving Iraq, the United States is going to deepen our engagement with you as we build a comprehensive relationship with a sovereign power.
And under the leadership of our able ambassador, in my view one of the best ambassadors -- I mean this sincerely, I’ve been doing this a long time, Mr. Prime Minister, you have gotten our best, our very best in Ambassador Jeffrey; and you know you got our best in General Austin.
And under their leadership, under Jeffrey’s leadership now, his mission as I said is going to be staffed by serious, serious, serious civilian experts at his disposal and at your disposal as you wish them -- only if you wish them.
The next milestone in what will be a historic month in our relationship will come in less than two weeks when you and President Obama and I -- when President Obama and I welcome you, Mr. Prime Minister, and your delegation to Washington.
Mr. Prime Minister, the President and I -- and I speak for the President -- we very much look forward to your visit. And we thank you and the Iraq government for your leadership. And we look forward -- we look forward to building a mature 21st century relationship with a nation that has much, much to contribute to the world and to the region.
Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister.
12:03 P.M. (Local)