17 September 1998
(Kurdish parties agree on timetable for reconciliation) (550) By Jane A. Morse USIA Diplomatic Correspondent Washington -- Two important Kurdish parties of northern Iraq have agreed to a specific timetable to reconcile their decades-old differences with the goal of power sharing, revenue sharing, and elections next summer. Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and Massoud Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), announced their agreement during a joint statement to the press at the State Department September 17. Accompanying them was Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Albright lauded the agreement as a "new and hopeful chapter" in Kurdish relations. The meeting of the two Kurdish leaders in Washington marked the first time in four years they have talked face-to-face. The Secretary emphasized the "deep concern" the United States has for Kurdish peoples and its interest in protecting them from any further atrocities at the hands of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Both leaders emphasized that they are not separatists but dedicated to representing Kurdish interests in a united Iraq. "We are not a separatist force," Talabani said during his remarks to the press. "We are looking forward to a united, democratic Iraq. A senior State Department official who briefed reporters later that afternoon declined to provide details of the timetable established in the agreement. But the U.S. official, who did not wish to be identified, said the two sides had agreed to specific steps to be taken for revenue sharing under United Nation's Resolution 986, approved in 1996. Known as the "food for oil" program, it allows Iraq to sell its oil in exchange for food and other humanitarian supplies. The Kurdish people receive a portion of the benefits of this program. The two sides have also agreed to a power sharing agreement that will culminate in elections next summer, the U.S. official told reporters. Since Iraq has not conducted a census for years, the Kurdish groups will need international help in establishing population counts as a basis for their electorate, as well as help in conducting the elections, the official said. The U.S. official also emphasized that the United States and the international community would not countenance any replication of Saddam Hussein's 1988 and 1991 efforts to eradicate Kurdish populations. Both the PUK and the KDP have committed themselves to addressing Turkey's concerns with its border security, the State Department official said. "They are strongly supportive of the security of the borders of the countries in the area, especially Turkey," the official said. "And they have agreed between themselves on a specific method to implement that and a specific understanding between the two of them about parties -- and especially one party -- that that is directed at." The official was referring to the Kurdish Workers Party, known as the PKK -- a militant organization seeking a separate Kurdish homeland on Turkish soil. The group has been battling Ankara for more than a decade and has been declared a terrorist organization by both the United States and Turkey. Talabani and Barzani have agreed to continue to meet under the auspices of the United States, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. "This is really, for them, a significant change in how they deal with each other," the U.S. official said.