Iraq’s president says to work on improving ties with Saudi Arabia

Fouad Masum, Iraq's newly elected president, speaks during a news conference in Baghdad, July 24, 2014.

Fouad Masum, Iraq’s newly elected president, speaks during a news conference in Baghdad, July 24, 2014.

Iraq’s new President Fouad Masum has said he will work toward improving ties with the Saudi Arabia as well as developing contacts with his neighbor in order to tackle the growing threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“Iraq’s relationship with some Arab countries is good in general. The backing, however, that we received in communiqués, particularly from Saudi Arabia, represents a good grounding for communication and strengthening of these ties,” Masum said in an interview with London-based Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat – his first since assuming office in late July.

“We want our ties with Saudi Arabia in particular to be solid, durable and developed and we will work on this in the near future,” he added.

Discussing the threat posed by ISIS, which has gained swaths of territory in both Iraq and Syria, Masum said that his first step as president would be to “make contacts and … hold meetings between Saudi officials and their Iraqi counterparts on all levels during the U.N. session next month,” apparently referring to the September meeting of the General Assembly.

“I think we currently live through the joint threat of terrorism and of [ISIS],” he added.

In the interview, Masum also defended his legal decision to appoint Haidar al-Abadi as prime minister-designate, saying it was well-founded, despite controversy surrounding his recent appointment.

Masum discussed Maliki’s recent departure following his eight-year tenure as premier, calling it “a good move to maintain consensus which is the basis of building the political process in Iraq.”

On the legality of Abadi’s appointment, contrary to Maliki’s initial claims prior to his resignation that the move was unconstitutional, Masum said that he was “certain there was no violation of the constitution.”

On a question whether his long-standing ties with Maliki had been damaged over the latter’s dismissal (Masum had supervised Maliki’s master’s dissertation in Arabic language and literature in northern Erbil), Masum insisted that he would still “maintain this friendship.”

“Personal relations are one thing and public interests are another. Even if we disagree today, we’ll meet tomorrow,” he added.

Masum said also he planned to present several initiatives to Iraq’s political parties, including the establishment of a national council being made of himself as president, the prime minister, the parliament speaker and the leaders of political blocs.

He also called for establishing other governmental bodies including a higher defense council and a “construction council” for civil projects. Additionally, he called for the government to install an integrity committee “because corruption has terribly spread.”

On negotiating with the country’s Kurdish-controlled north, Masum said that he believed “dialogue and sitting on one table will be a guarantee to resolve problems between Baghdad and the region on the basis of both parties’ commitment to the constitution.”

Responding to public perceptions that Iraq’s highest offices were packed with Islamist-rooted figures – with Masum having a PhD in Islamic philosophy from Cairo’s al-Azhar University, the parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri hailing from the Islamic Party and premier-designate Haider al-Abadi from the Islamist Dawa Party, the president said “I am secular.”

 
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