Shared views on troubled past and hopes for future
President Barzani meets Northern Ireland leaders
President Masoud Barzani last week met Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First Minister and the Speaker of the Assembly in his first official visit to Belfast which was hosted by Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Arlene Foster.
These meetings and those with other ministers and business representatives focused on strengthening ties between the two regions through trade.
Mr Barzani, who is on a two-day visit, is accompanied by Dr Fuad Hussein, the President's chief of Staff, Minister Falah Mustafa, Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, Dr Ali Saeed, Minister of Higher Education, and Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government's Representative to the UK.
In their meeting, First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and President Barzani discussed the political situation in Iraq, the Constitution as well as events in Syria and the Middle East in general. They also spoke of the shared troubled history of the people of Northern Ireland and Kurdistan and the drive and determination to live in peace and to build a better future. Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness said that they recognised the great suffering of the Kurdish people.
President Barzani said, "We have followed the situation in Northern Ireland for some time because we see similarities. I would like to congratulate you and wish you success (following the peace process). Experience has proved that without security, reconstruction and development cannot take place. We have overcome terrible suffering in our history. We would like to learn from your experience and we see areas where we can cooperate. We have started from scratch and we want our friends to help us in a mutually beneficial way."
The First Minister echoed Mr Barzani's sentiment and said he hoped that together they could build a good relationship. The Deputy First Minister told the President and his delegation, "You arrived as strangers but you leave as friends."
President Barzani also met Speaker William Hay who took the Kurdish delegation on a tour of the Stormont parliament building.
The delegation also visited the Titanic museum which highlights Belfast's ship-building history. They visited Belfast Met with Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry to hear about the institute's higher education and vocational training courses.
In the evening, Mrs Foster hosted a dinner for the President and the delegation at Hillsborough Castle, the government guest house. About 100 representatives of Northern Ireland companies, the head of Invest Northern Ireland (INI) and several ministers were also present.
In her speech, Mrs Foster said the relationship between the two regions had expanded rapidly in the past few years with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed last year to promote further cooperation in several sectors including higher education, tourism and agriculture. She also highlighted the growing number of companies doing business in Kurdistan. "We clearly wish to build on our partnerships with Kurdistan," she said.
The President thanked Mrs Foster for the warm welcome he and the delegation had received. He said, "Our visit to Belfast shows our commitment and desire to further develop this relationship. There are many areas where we can work together and Northern Ireland companies are welcome in Kurdistan."
Today President Barzani visited the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute which has signed an MOU with the KRG's Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources.
Mrs Foster has visited Kurdistan twice with INI business delegations and last year signed an MOU with Minister Falah Mustafa to promote further trade. Invest Northern Ireland has visited Kurdistan several times and Kurdish delegations have visited Belfast. President Barzani was officially invited to Belfast by both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.
President Barzani met with Northern Ireland leaders.