By Michael Hernandez
The U.S. said Thursday it is willing to facilitate talks between the Kurdish Regional Government and the Iraqi central government, if asked.
Tensions between Erbil and Baghdad soared after Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted for independence from the central government earlier this week in a nonbinding referendum.
"The United States, if asked, would be willing to help facilitate a conversation between the two," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters. "But I want to be clear about that -- if asked. If we were asked to assist in any way."
The poll has been denounced by Iraq and its neighbors, who view it as illegitimate.
The U.S. warned it could have a destabilizing effect on counter-Daesh efforts, and coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon told reporters Thursday that following the plebiscite, "the focus, which used to be like a laser beam on ISIS, is now not 100 percent there.”
He was referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, another name for Daesh.
"There has been an effect on the overall mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq as a result of the referendum," Dillon added.
Later on Thursday, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry announced that the UN offered to mediate between the Iraq’s central government and Kurdish Regional Government after the region’s illegitimate referendum.
"The UN is ready to help you solve the problem with the KGR. The international community supports the territorial integrity of Iraq,” the ministry said in a statement released after the Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jaafari’s meeting with the UN Iraq Envoy Jan Kubis in Baghdad.
“Iraq has become the center of attention for the whole world, especially after its victory against the Daesh terrorist organization,” statement added.
Jaafari called for the UN to play a more effective role in Iraq and pointed that all Iraqi provinces contributed in the country’s fight against Daesh, which showed sectarian and ethnical unity inside Iraq.
Baghdad has taken a number of punitive measures against Erbil following the poll, including a move to close all foreign diplomatic missions in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region and calling on all foreign airlines to suspend flights into the Kurdish region by Friday.
The referendum saw Iraqis in Kurdish Regional Government-controlled areas -- and in a handful of territories disputed between Erbil and Baghdad, including ethnically mixed Kirkuk and Mosul -- vote on whether to declare independence.
Official preliminary results revealed that 93 percent of voters backed Kurdish independence, although the vote was widely criticized by the international community.
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