Kuwait open to investing war reparations into Iraq

Posted in Broader Middle East | 09-Jul-09 | Source: Gulf in the Media

Kuwait's parliament speaker Jassem al-Kharafi, left, looks on as Iraq's parliament speaker Ayad al-Samarraie , right, addresses journalists during a press conference in Kuwait City, Wednesday, July 8, 2009.

Kuwait is open to investing into Iraq some $ 25 billion still owed it in reparations from the 1990-1991 Gulf crisis, Iraq's parliament speaker said while visiting Kuwait yesterday. A United Nations commission has been deducting a percentage of Iraqi oil revenues to pay compensation to Kuwaitis and other nationals harmed by Saddam Hussein's invasion of this close US ally in 1990. Iraq, struggling to rebuild after decades of sanctions, war, and foreign occupation has asked Kuwait to forgo the repara
tions or reduce them, but Kuwait has insisted they should be paid.

We tried to propose an alternative solution," Iraqi parliament speaker Ayad Al-Samarraie said at the end of a visit to Kuwait. "There would be an agreement between the two countries that the money paid to Kuwait as compensation would be reinvested in Iraq in one way or another." The speaker said there were "enormous opportunities" in his country where foreign investments have virtually stopped since 1980, at the start of an 8-year war with Iran. He added that Iraq was a "virgin land of huge investment opp
ortunities" and that Kuwait "has the right to be the first country to benefit from these investment opportunities.

He said Kuwaiti officials he met during his four-day visit "didn't object to the idea," which still needs to be discussed further. Al-Samarraie's counterpart, Jassem Al-Khorafi, was quick to point out to reporters that such talks would first be taken up by the executive branches of government in both countries.

On the reaction of Kuwaiti officials to his proposal over compensations, Samarraie said, "Some Kuwaiti government bodies had adopted such a proposal in the past, but what is new is that the issue is now much more serious, especially as Kuwaiti officials did not express any objection to the idea." He said, however, that this issue "requires a more detailed discussion because it is related to many executive aspects, as it pertains to a certain sum of money that is transformed to investments, and this matter
cannot be concluded in a single meeting, and there is need to (discuss) many details.

Samarraie added that he "will convey this initial readiness on the part of Kuwait over this matter, and present it to the Iraqi side. The matter may require a specialized work team to discuss the details, and how to transform this simple, preliminary idea into a comprehensive project.

Asked whether pending issues between Kuwait and Iraq would pose an obstacle in the way of economic cooperation, he reconfirmed "the presence of Kuwait and Iraqi will to work together to develop relations and to resolve our problems." He expressed belief in the presence of such will, and thus "we will move forward, step by step, towards resolving all pending issues and other new dossiers related to commercial exchange, investment cooperation, and boosting relations.

It is important to clarify here that the issue of debts is one that is dealt with between the two governments, and thus measures taken are executive ones," Khorafi said, alluding to the fact that this matter fell within the prerogatives of the executive authorities of the two countries. He added, "After the two governments decide on a specific measure, this can then be presented to parliaments, should implementation require legislative or legal procedures.

Khorafi noted that Article 50 of the Kuwaiti Constitution, as well as articles of the Iraqi parliamentary statute, stipulated the importance of separating between the prerogatives of the different branches of authority. However, he said, "This does not mean that we, as the state's legislative authority, cannot assist the executive authority in its effort to achieve what is in the best interest of the two countries.

When asked about the conflicting stances of some Kuwaiti MPs and officials with regard to Samarraie's economic cooperation proposals, and whether this would affect relations between the two countries, Khorafi said, "We are in a democratic institution, and if this is a democratic institution in the true sense, then we can never arrive at a consensus." He added, "We may agree on the goal, but differ over the means to achieve it.

Khorafi said that "at the end of the day, we must remember the positive aspects related to bilateral relations, and the positive remarks over supporting these ties," while reiterating "the keenness on all sides for boosting relations, and everyone in Kuwait agrees over the basic goals.

Baghdad also wants Kuwait to forgive around $ 15 billion owed by Iraq from Saddam's time. Kuwait says it is a matter for its parliament to decide. Many lawmakers have expressed strong objections saying Iraq is richer than Kuwait in natural resources and can afford to pay. The latest figures from the World Bank estimate Kuwait has a per capita income of more than $ 38,000 a year - one of the highest in the world - while Iraq's was believed to be less than $ 4,000. Ties between the two Arab neighbors were sever
ed until the fall of Saddam in 2003. Kuwait was the launch pad for the US invasion that toppled the dictator.

Samarraie also said maritime borders between Kuwait and Iraq are not much affected, and border demarcation may result in some obstacles that can be tackled through bilateral agreements. Speaking at a joint press conference with Khorafi, he said, "I will discuss with Iraqi officials these obstacles, and will convey to them the willingness of Kuwait to give facilitations to Iraq regarding this matter, and thus we can resolve this dossier.

The Iraqi speaker also underscored the need for a "joint construction effort" between Kuwait and Iraq, and called for bilateral relations not to be confined to official grounds, and for them to be expanded and for the executive and legislative authorities in the two countries to carry out their roles. He expressed belief that "the parliamentarians of the two countries can activate relations between them and contribute to removing obstacles in order to find grounds for improving relations.

Samarraie called on the governments and parliaments of the two countries to take up their roles on behalf of their peoples and boost bilateral ties. "It is only natural for any relation to begin with a customary visit of officials of the two countries to discuss dossiers, and I believe that the issue is much greater than pending dossiers that we are now negotiating. We aspire for more, and this is what we seek to achieve," he said.

Samarraie underscored the presence of "a true will in Kuwait to develop Kuwaiti-Iraqi relations" and said that he was optimistic over this desire. As for why Iraq had not yet named its ambassador to Kuwait, he said that this was a "technical" issue and that appointing any ambassador required the approval of the Iraqi parliament.

There are 64 nominated Iraqi ambassadors to different countries awaiting parliament endorsement, he explained, adding that once this was obtained, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry would no doubt quickly appoint an envoy to Kuwait. He underscored the keenness of his country's foreign ministry for the appointed ambassador to be one of high qualifications.

When asked whether he would ask Iraqi parliamentarians not to discuss pending issues between the two sides through media statements, Samarraie said, "We must differentiate between the role played by the government, and that played by the parliament." He explained that all parliaments around the world did not engage in negotiations with states over matters pertinent to the executive authority.

In any democratic state, one cannot prevent the media or prevent the MPs from making statements to the media ... in some cases, statements by MPs to the media are harmful to relations ... I believe that in Iraq and Kuwait, we must be aware (of this) ... this is the price that we pay for democracy." He called on officials not to dwell too much at these matters, and encouraged "commitment to rules governing relations, and for contributing to construction and not destruction (of relations).

On the formation of a Kuwaiti-Iraqi parliamentary committee, he said, "We came with a humble request and found that the Kuwait offer to be much more generous ... we came with the request for forming a joint committee grouping parliamentarians from the two countries to discuss differences between Kuwait and Iraq and to help the two executive authorities resolve their differences, but we were surprised that the Kuwait offer was much larger, with an aspiration for forming a parliamentary friendship committee
to discuss all pending dossiers.

Samarraie said that forming a friendship parliamentary committee would be discussed by Kuwait's parliamentary committee for foreign affairs, and the Kuwaiti request would also be conveyed to the Iraqi parliament.

Khorafi said the visit of Samarraie to Kuwait is "a step in the right direction," and one that the Kuwaiti parliament "will return." "I want to reiterate my appreciation, on behalf of my fellow MPs, to Speaker Al-Samarraie for accepting our invitation to visit the country, and I would like to welcome him once again in his second home - Kuwait.

He described the visit as "successful" and one during which the two sides were able to discuss many issues, noting that Al-Samarraie met many Kuwaiti officials, including HH the Amir. Asked whether the duration of this visit, which lasted four days, was enough time for negotiations to close dossiers between the two sides, Khorafi said, "To begin with, I would like to affirm that Al-Samarraie's visit was a step in the right direction, and as we say, 'A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step'

He added, "This step taken by Al-Samarraie, and his acceptance of our invitation to come to Kuwait, had a great impact, and this is what he sensed during his official meetings." Khorafi said that Samarraie came to Kuwait "bearing the appreciation and keenness of the Iraqi parliament and people," adding that the Kuwaiti National Assembly "will respond to this in an even warmer manner.

Moreover, he underscored Kuwait's keenness for continuing such meetings "not only to improve relations between the two countries and peoples, but also to develop brotherly ties that must be present between the two sides." He said that "if there are problems, then there is no way to resolve them except through direct dialogue," and noted that he would work to encourage the executive authority to work on this matter.

The Kuwaiti speaker said that what had been completed over the past four days was "a lot, and the most important results were achieved through Al-Samarraie's meetings with Kuwaiti officials." This, he said, included the meeting with HH the Amir, during which the Iraqi parliament speaker "listened to a heart-to-heart talk, one through which we hope we can all work together to help Iraq get out from under Chapter VII sanctions, after it implements UN resolutions and the required conditions.

He also said that Samarraie listened to aspects related to bilateral relations and how to boost them, adding that his meeting with the media "confirms that Kuwait and Iraq have much more in common than they do differences." Khorafi added, "We will all work on focusing on the positive aspects and steering clear of the negative, while looking forward to the future, such that we can contribute to the stability of both Kuwait and Iraq, and this is what we wish.

As for developing relations, Khorafi said that "this is in the interest of both Kuwait and Iraq, and thus we must all work to this end, although we may differ on how to get there." He hoped that "there will not be any negative reactions to a comment made here or one made in Baghdad over the issue, and we must be cautious of such statements and the reactions they may ignite.

He once again reiterated that everyone in Kuwait was in agreement over the basic goals, including the importance of cooperating with Iraqi and implementing UN resolutions so that it may come out from under the Chapter VII sanctions, "and if there are issues that need tackling in order to assist Iraq on this matter, then we must (tackle them).

Moreover, Khorafi said that everyone agreed that it was in the interest of the two countries to resolve pending issues as soon as possible "and we must not let issues between the two sides pile up because we want to deal with them one at a time." He expressed optimism over the outcomes of Samarraie's visit and the impact it would have on bilateral relations, adding, "A friend is one that speaks the truth, and frankness helps and eases the process of developing relations between the two sides and ends conflicts, which is what we aspire for in the future.