Washington, DC, USA (us.gov.krd) – President of the Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani this month made his first visit to the United States in nearly three years to meet with US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. During the meeting at the White House, the President thanked the US for its ongoing support of Kurdistan, and discussed the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the KRG’s relations with Baghdad, and the humanitarian crisis in Kurdistan. President Barzani also met with Vice President Biden the next day to further discuss these issues. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, the President called his meetings with US administration officials ‘very successful’.
Other meetings and events throughout the visit covered a range of issues including the war against ISIS, training and equipping Kurdish Peshmerga Forces against ISIS, aid in the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Kurdistan, KRG negotiations with Baghdad over budget payments, and the future of the Kurdistan Region’s relationships in Iraq.
President Barzani conducted meetings with a number of senior US administration officials at the State Department, including Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken, General John Allen, Assistant Secretary Anne Richards, Assistant Secretary Puneet Talwar, Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary Virginia Bennett, Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett McGurk, Ambassador Stuart Jones, and Director of the Iraq Desk Anthony Godfrey. He thanked the United States for providing air support and humanitarian aid to the people of Kurdistan in their hour of need, adding that the Peshmerga Forces are on the front lines against ISIS and are still in dire need of heavy weapons, equipment, and training.
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs Elissa Slotkin, and other top US defense officials hosted the President at the Pentagon to discuss US and coalition strategy with the KRG to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS. President Barzani expressed gratitude for the US dedication in clearing Iraq of the terrorist organization.
The President met with Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, as well as Senate Leadership, thanking the members for their support of Kurdistan and highlighting the importance of delivering defense articles directly to the KRG.
The week included speeches to top academics, journalists, and officials at leading think thanks around Washington. He told an audience at the Atlantic Council that the airstrikes and support by the US-led international coalition have been, ‘very effective in fighting ISIS’, and critical in allowing the Peshmerga to liberate over 20,000 square kilometers. Still, he said, ‘It has been a costly war: 1,200 Peshmerga have been martyred, with another 7,000 wounded.’
The President briefed top Washington analysts and scholars in an off-the-record roundtable at the Center for a New American Security, and a discussion at the Council of Foreign Relations. At the latter event, he said, ‘The US has assured us that the Peshmerga will get the weapons they need to defeat ISIS,’ adding that the cooperative efforts between the Peshmerga and the international coalition had already eliminated 11,000 ISIS terrorists.
‘I would like to assure all of you that Kurdistan will remain the safe haven for all those who flee violence and insecurity in other parts, and it will continue to be the beacon of hope and also the land of tolerance, regardless of national, ethnic, religious, or sectarian background,’ said President Barzani at a reception hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce and the US-Kurdistan Business Council. The reception was attended by over 200 ambassadors, officials, top journalists, business leaders, and members of Congress, including Senator and US Presidential candidate Ted Cruz.
At the conclusion of the trip, President Barzani met with reporters from leading US news agencies to discuss the outcomes of his meetings and deliver updates from the region. He also delivered remarks and took questions in a town hall-style meeting with over 600 members of the Kurdish community.
The President traveled with a delegation that included Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council Masrour Barzani, Minister of the Peshmerga Mustafa Sayid Qadir, Chief of Staff Dr Fuad Hussein, Minister of Natural Resources Dr Ashti Hawrami, Minister of Housing and Reconstruction Darbaz Kosrat Rasul, Head of the Department of Foreign Relations Falah Mustafa Bakir, and the Representative to the US Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman.