the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release

Remarks by Vice President Biden in a Joint Statement to the Press with President Talabani

PRESIDENT TALABANI:  This is a very happy occasion in which we host and welcome our dear friend, the friend of the Iraqi people, Vice President Joe Biden.  He was our friend when he was in his days at the Senate, and he has always stood for us on the side of the Iraqi people.  We welcome him, a very warm welcome.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:  Well, Mr. President, thank you very much.  It's a pleasure to be back here in Baghdad.  This is my fourth visit since being elected Vice President, and third since being sworn in.  As a matter of fact, I've been here so often, I'm probably becoming a nuisance.

And, Mr. President, it's always a pleasure to be with you.  As -- I met this morning with the U.N. Special Representative, Mr. Melkert, with Prime Minister Maliki, with Speaker Samarrai'e.  And I had lunch with a group of elected officials, Iraqi elected officials, over lunch.  And the point of my visit is that Iraq remains a central priority for President Obama.  Our administration is absolutely committed to a successful, stable, representative, and just Iraq.  And we are committed to building an enduring partnership between Iraq and the United States.

Mr. President, that's why I'm here, and that's why one of the main issues discussed today with all the parties was how the United States accelerates its efforts, our efforts, in implementing the Strategic Framework Agreement -- including by developing close bonds of commerce, investment, education, and culture.

As President Obama made clear last year, we will end our combat mission of our troops this summer and draw down our forces in compliance with the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement.  But even as we draw down our military, Mr. President, we will ramp up our political, diplomatic, and economic engagement with Iraq.

It is often said that the true test of democracy is not the first election, but the second election.  Just last month, Iraqi political leaders passed a historic election law, which for the first time endorsed an open list for national elections.  And now, you all are working together to ensure that the March 7th national election will be inclusive, transparent, and fair.

In my talks with Iraqi leaders today, one of the things we discussed was the recent controversy regarding the proposed disqualification of some of the candidates running for election.  I want to make it clear:  I am not here to resolve that issue.  This is for Iraqis to do, not for me.

After today's discussions, though, I am confident that Iraq's leaders are seized with the problem and are working for a final, just solution.  The issue is not the goal of holding individuals accountable for their past actions, but the process of disqualification itself.  Iraqi leaders understand that if the Iraq people and the international community see the process as fair and transparent, it will enhance the credibility of the election.

Let me also be clear:  The United States condemns the crimes of the previous regime, and we fully support Iraq's constitutional ban on the return to power of Sadam's Baath party.  At the request of the Iraqi government, we will help Iraqis living in the United States participate in the election by making out-of-country voting available.  We are also prepared to support the request of the U.S. -- for U.S. election observers.  This support is only one small example of our commitment to Iraq's democracy.

On another point, let me make -- take this opportunity to express my personal regret for the violence in Nisour involving Blackwater employees in 2007.  The United States is determined -- determined to hold accountable anyone who commits crimes against the Iraqi people.

While we fully respect the independence and integrity of the U.S. judicial system, we were disappointed by the judge's decision to dismiss the indictment, which was based on the way in which some evidence had been acquired.  A dismissal, I want to make clear, is not an acquittal.

And today, I am announcing that the United States government will appeal this decision.  Our Justice Department will file that appeal from the judge's decision next week.

Mr. President, flying from the airport last night over Baghdad, I saw a city alive with great possibilities.  One of the things that has changed fundamentally since my first flight over the city in 2003 -- bright lights were all over the city where not long ago there was darkness.  And there were bustling traffic jams where I once saw empty streets.

And so I'm convinced, Mr. President, that Iraq's best days will still come, they are still ahead and the partnership between our two countries will grow even stronger.  And I thank you, Mr. President, for your hospitality.

Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT TALABANI:  Thank you, Mr. Vice President.  Welcome.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:  Thank God you're here.  Thank God you're here.