Kurdistan Region President Barzani meets Trump at Davos to discuss regional tensions

Including Syria, Iran
Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani and US President Donald Trump at Davos on January 22, 2020 (Photo Credit: Twitter/@SafeenDizayee)

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SULAIMANI — Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani met with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday (January 22) for discussions about bilateral relations and ongoing tensions in the Middle East.

According to a report from the press pool traveling with Trump, the two discussed the situation in northeastern Syria, which was invaded by the Turkish military on October 9 following an apparent green-light from Trump during a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, and the continuing fight against Islamic State.

In his remarks, Trump cast the situation in a positive light, saying that “safe zones” had been created. Since the military intervention, nearly 20,000 refugees have sought shelter in the Kurdistan Region.

“As you know, we left Syria, from the standpoint of the border, and that’s worked out great with Turkey. It’s worked out far better than anybody ever thought possible. They have the so-called 'safe zone,' and I appreciate everything you’ve done to keep it as safe as possible,” Trump said.

“But, very importantly, as you know, we have the oil. And we left soldiers for the oil, because we took the oil and we’re working on that. And we have it very nicely secured,” he added.

Barzani thanked Trump for his leadership and support, according to the pool report.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, Mr. President, to receive us in Davos. As you said, you know, we’ve been, quite a long time, waiting for that moment. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your support,” Barzani said.

“[We] defeated ISIS together. So on behalf of people, I mean in Kurdistan, I would like to express our thanks and gratitude to your leadership and your support,” he added.

Since the start of the year, tensions in the Middle East have been particularly high.

On January 3, the US assassinated Iranian Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike near Baghdad International Airport and Tehran responded by firing a barrage of ballistic missiles at bases hosting US and coalition troops in Erbil and Anbar.

The inclusion of targets in the Kurdistan Region highlighted the awkward and dangerous position of the Kurdistan Regional Government and local political parties, which have close ties with both Washington and Tehran.

While lawmakers in Baghdad have signaled that they want the presence of US and coalition troops to end, Erbil has made it clear that it wants them to remain as a bulwark against the resurgence of Islamic State.

The day before meeting the US leader, Barzani met with Armenian President Armen Sarkissian, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, and Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde.

Barzani and Cavusoglu discussed ways to increase cooperation between Ankara and Erbil and to manage regional tensions.

While Turkey has not been directly involved in tensions between the US and Iran, it maintains a network of bases inside the Kurdistan Region to combat the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and would be affected by any move to expel foreign troops from Iraqi territory.

Following his meeting with Barzani, Trump will have a meeting with Iraqi President Barham Salih before departing Switzerland for Washington, where he faces domestic political turmoil. On Tuesday, the US Senate formally began his impeachment trial.

Barzani will remain at Davos for further meetings and will speak on a panel with Iraqi Finance Minister Fuad Hussein, Saudi Arabian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, UN Special Representative for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and Chatham House Director Robin Niblett.

Barzani was accompanied to Davos by a delegation, including Head of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Department of Foreign Relations Safeen Dizayee, Chief of Staff Fawzi Hariri, Senior Foreign Policy Adviser Falah Mustafa.

(NRT Digital Media)

This story was updated at 3:13 pm EBL.