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Iraqi President Visits RFE/RL, Discusses Wide Range of Topics During Briefing, Interviews

(Prague, Czech Republic--October 5, 2005) Jalal Talabani, the President of the Iraqi Transitional Government, told a briefing audience at RFE/RL's Prague broadcast center today that "All [Iraqis] are equal, and dictatorship, in whatever form, will never have a place. It is this resolve that is making us a target for the terrorists and the forces of darkness, which cannot bear seeing yet another democracy." During the briefing, and prior studio interviews, Talabani addressed a wide range of issues and offered praise for RFE/RL broadcasting to his country.

In responding to a question on the new draft constitution, due to be voted on during an October 15 referendum, Talabani said that "the constitution is not a panacea. The constitution is the constitution. But the constitution will help to convince every Iraqi that the regime is stable, the new democratic Iraq will remain, will survive, and terrorists cannot defeat the will of the Iraqi people." Talabani also responded to questions concerning possible Iranian influence in Iraq, the role of the Mujahedin e-Khalq, Russian-Iraqi relations, the future of the Kurdish nation and his views concerning Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Ja'fari.

During studio interviews in Arabic with Radio Free Iraq correspondents and in English with RFE/RL journalists, Talabani said that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "will have a very just and fair trial in Iraq" while asserting that he felt Hussein "will be presented to the court as a war criminal and when [he] is sentenced the sentence must be respected." If Hussein is sentenced to death, Talabani said, he would not be the person to sign the death sentence, in recognition of his documented opposition to the death penalty. "This does not mean, however, that I will prohibit the death sentence from being carried out," Talabani continued, noting that "the decision is not in the hands of the president... It is in the hands of the [three-member] Presidency Council."

Talabani made a special effort to praise RFE/RL's Arabic-language broadcasting for Iraq, calling it "an important source of in-depth, uncensored and objective news and information for the people of Iraq" and noting that "at times, it became a bridge between Iraq and the world. It connected the people of Iraq with their democratic leaders and opinion makers, who were outside Iraq." RFE/RL's oversight board, the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, also oversees the 24 hour/7 day a week Arabic-language broadcasts of Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television.

Talabani also thanked "the people and government of the Czech Republic for their support for building democracy in Iraq," noting that "in today's Iraq, we change governments by elections not by guns. We change opinions by dialogue not by force. We solve disputes by compromise and not violence."

RFE/RL has set up a special website documenting President Talabani's visit to Prague. The site features audio of President Talabani's briefing, transcripts of the briefing and studio interviews, as well as links to RFE/RL coverage of Iraq and the Talabani trip to Europe.