"We are going to give once again a chance to the political process in Baghdad, but we are not going to think that is the only path. Parallel to that we are going to build ourselves, and we are heading toward exercising self-determination," said Fuad Hussein, before he and Mustafa Bakir, Kurdistan's foreign affairs chief, met at the White House with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Antony Blinken, U.S. deputy national security adviser Thursday.
Kurdistan is preparing itself to be a stronger voice in Iraq if the country stays together, following an invasion of Sunni militants that has effectively partitioned the country ethnically and religiously -- Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and west, Shiites in the south -- and if the Iraqi parliament cannot organize a unified government of coalition, Kurdistan is preparing a referendum on independence and self-government.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged the Kurds to take a leadership role in uniting the country. A State Department spokeswoman said earlier in the week, "We've been very consistent and clear about our view that a stronger Iraq is a united Iraq, a united Iraq is a stronger Iraq."
Hussein mentioned "recognizing the border of Kurdistan" and "recognizing the independence of our economy" as prerequisites for involving the Kurds in a unified Iraqi government, and referred to a potential dissolution of Iraq as a "divorce."
"We have never been treated equally; nor have we been treated as a partner," Bakir added.
After the meeting, a statement from Biden's office said both sides concurred on "the importance of forming a new government in Iraq that will pull together all communities."