The Cable

Iraq accuses Qatar of financing jihadi groups in Syria

Iraq's national security advisor, Faleh al-Fayyad, said Monday that Qatar and other Arab countries, along with nongovernmental groups, are financing Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian jihadi group, with the acquiescence of Turkey.

"These are the same sources that finance al Qaeda," Fayyad said through a translator. "In times of crisis, some countries use al Qaeda; some countries make peace with al Qaeda," he said.

Fayyad and a delegation of Iraqi officials and members of Parliament are in Washington this week for meetings with top U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and other senior State Department and Pentagon officials.

Fayyad said his meeting with Biden was "very beneficial and useful." Iraq is hoping to bolster its relations with the United States, including via increased weapons sales and training, and attract greater investment from U.S. companies. The delegation is using this week's meetings to get acquainted with the Obama administration's second-term team.

Fayyad said that Turkey, Qatar, and other Arab countries had pushed the uprising in Syria, soon to enter its third year, toward armed conflict.

But the Iraqis were keen to stress that they bear no goodwill toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Fayyad said had caused a lot of suffering over the years in Iraq, and that they sympathized with the suffering of the Syrian people.

"Bashar al-Assad has hurt Iraq the same as Saddam Hussein," said Yassin Maijd, an Iraqi MP traveling with the delgation, noting the similarities of the two countries' Baath parties.

The Iraqis are especially concerned about the rising power of Jebhat al-Nusra, which the United States has designated a terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda in Iraq.

"Very frankly, elements of al Qaeda are very active in certain parts of Syria," Fayyad said, comparing Turkey's role of hosting and facilitating armed groups to that of Syria at the height of the insurgency in Iraq.

Fayyad noted that Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki had personally warned U.S. President Barack Obama that the conflict could drag on for two years or longer.

Iraq and the United States had previously had sharp differences over Syria, Fayyad acknowledged, but said that Obama's position on Syria -- which he described as pressure aimed at bringing the warring parties to the table -- is now "really good."

Fayyad said that Iraq is willing to cooperate with the international community to find a negotiated end to the conflict in Syria, but warned that Iraq would be less willing to do so if it is not included in the discussions and that it would not tolerate a government that included jihadi groups like Jabhat al-Nusra.

"We will not accept to have the noose around our necks and allow Syria to be divided along sectarian lines," Fayyad said.

The Cable

State Department issues Keystone XL pipeline plan analysis

The State Department issued a detailed analysis of the latest proposal for the Keystone XL pipeline, which has faced intense scrutiny over its potential environment impact.

"Today, the U.S. Department of State released a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) in response to TransCanada's May 2012 application for the Keystone XL pipeline that would run from Canada to Nebraska." the State Department said in a release today. "The document is a draft technical review of potential environmental impacts associated with the proposed Project, including: impacts from construction, impacts from potential spills, impacts related to climate change, and economic impacts."

After 45 days of public comment, State will issue a final the SEIS, which will be the department's final say on the environmental impact of the pipeline project. After that, a decision on approving the plan will be made. 

"This is a draft. I think it's premature to get into that because we need to have a public debate," Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones said in a conference call Friday. "I think it's premature at this point to try to come down with strong conclusions."

Although the draft doesn't draw any final conclusions on whether the pipeline project is environmentally sound, it does outline several changes in the application made by pipeline company TransCanada in 2012 since the 2008 application, which was rejected by the State Department on environmental grounds in 2011.

"This is a document that looks a lot of the technical issues; it's not really a policy document," Jones said. "We have found that there are in some cases impacts and in some cases there are impact mitigations... This paper does not come out one way or the other and make a decision about this project. We're not at that stage... It really has no recommendations one way or the other."

The new application proposes a pipeline that would be 875 miles long and transport 830,000 barrels per day from Alberta, Canada, and the Baken Shale Formation in Montana, through the states of Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. It would connect to existing pipelines in Steele City, Nebraska, for onward delivery to Cushing, Oklahoma, and the Texas Gulf coast region.

The 2008 plan would have crossed through five states and would have been about 1.5 times the length. The route was changed to avoid the Sand Hills area in Nebraska due to worries that a pipeline incident could spoil that environmentally sensitive region.

The Natural Resources Defense Council issued a statement late Friday afternoon insisting that the new plan does not address its concerns.

"The facts remain absolutely clear: the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest. Mining the tar sands would be a disaster for our climate," said NRDC Canada Project Director Danielle Droitsch. "Piping it through the heartland would put our ranchers and farmers at risk. And sending it to the Gulf only makes our country a dirty oil gateway to overseas markets. It's not in our national interest. It's a bad idea. It needs to be denied."