By Cheryl Pellerin, American Forces Press Service
Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki talks to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden after giving his speech during the Government of Iraq Day of Commitment Ceremony in the Al Faw Palace at Victory Base Complex, Iraq, Dec. 1, 2011. Ambassador to Iraq, James F. Jeffrey is on the left and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is on the right. The ceremony commemorated the sacrifices and accomplishments of U.S. and Iraqi service members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)
WASHINGTON (November 30, 2011) — The United States and Iraq are beginning a new phase of a partnership that reflects Iraq’s needs and includes a robust security relationship, Vice President Joe Biden said today in Baghdad.
He and Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki delivered remarks before and after today’s meeting of the U.S.-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee, which issued a joint statement on the nations’ historic opportunity to build a relationship through security, trade, education and culture, law enforcement, environment and energy.
The committee is part of the Strategic Framework Agreement, signed in 2008 to affirm both nations’ desire to establish long-term bonds of cooperation and friendship.
“We are embarking on a new path together, a new phase in this relationship,” Biden said. “That partnership includes a robust security relationship based on what you decide – what you decide – you think that relationship should be.”
The vice president added, “We will continue our discussions with your government over the substance of our security arrangements, including areas of training, intelligence and counterterrorism.”
The meeting was held in a large room at the governmental palace. Biden and al-Maliki sat next to each other at the head of a long, rectangular conference table, joined by 20 members of the Iraqi delegation and 15 members of the U.S. delegation.
The U.S. delegation included Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commanding general of U.S. Forces Iraq; Antony J. Blinken, Biden’s advisor for national security policy; Jeffrey D. Feltman, assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs; and Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman.
“We’re going to start a new phase of friendship,” al-Maliki said after the meeting.
The U.S.-Iraq strategic framework “will establish a relationship based on mutual respect and bilateral interests,” he said, expressing his hope that Iraq can, “be a brother, a friend for other countries in this area.”
Biden noted that al-Maliki pushed for the coordinating committee to have a broader scope than security.
Today, the vice president said, the two delegations pledged to create a separate committee for coordinating security and defense cooperation.
The United States has completed nearly 1,800 projects in Iraq’s health sector valued at $800 million, including the renovation of 133 primary health centers, Biden said. The United States, he added, also has invested in Iraq’s transportation infrastructure, air-traffic-control network and railroads.
A lot of work remains to make such capacity building a success, Biden said.
Iraq’s development, he added, “will bring stability to the region. That is our sole interest in Iraq.”
The committee’s joint statement, issued after the meeting, addressed cooperation on a range of topics, including security and defense, politics and diplomacy, trade and finance, law enforcement, culture and education, technology and environment and transportation.
As part of the new phase of the relationship, U.S. military forces are drawing down, Biden noted. “There will still be security concerns, but we are confident your government is fully capable of handling those internal security concerns,” he said.
To bolster mutual trade and finance, the United States participated in the recent Baghdad International Trade Fair for the first time since 1988. The fair showcased 85 American businesses and organizations and built on the success of the 2009 Business and Investment Conference held in Washington.
The United States also supports the Iraqi government’s efforts in the financial sector by providing technical expertise needed to develop private banks and microfinance institutions.
U.S. assistance and professional support is helping develop and professionalize the Iraqi corrections system through judicial training programs for Iraqis through the Judicial Development Institute.
Through the Police Development Program, the United States will continue providing advisory and technical assistance to the Iraqi police, including an exchange program that will bring groups of Iraqi police here for leadership development over the next three years.
While in Iraq, Biden also plans to meet with President Jalal Talabani, Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and other Iraqi political leaders, and to offer remarks at an event to commemorate the sacrifices and accomplishments of U.S. and Iraqi troops.
The visit, Biden’s eighth as vice president, comes as U.S. forces are completing their drawdown in Iraq. All U.S. troops are slated to leave by Dec. 31, in accordance with the 2008 security agreement between the United States and Iraq.
Rather than leaving Iraq, “the United States is going to deepen our engagement with you,” the vice president said, adding that he looks forward to al-Maliki’s visit to Washington in mid-December.