BRATTLEBORO -- Former American ambassador Peter W. Galbraith defended his relationship with a foreign oil company on the same day reports surfaced of his lucrative deal with Kurdish officials.
Galbraith, 58, was linked to the Norwegian oil company DNO by The New York Times and multiple investigative reports from Europe indicating he received a large stake in the oil fields of the Dohuk region of Kurdistan -- a disputed sector of land overlapping northern Iraq, Iran and Turkey -- after assisting in the contract negotiations.
As a result of his relationship with the Norwegian company and Kurdish leaders during the time of constitutional deliberations, he stands to earn millions of dollars, according to published reports.
Speaking openly about the issue when questioned during a public appearance in Brattleboro, Galbraith said the internationally released article hints at a clash between his professional work and his business shares.
Galbraith spoke to a large crowd Thursday evening at the Centre Congregational Church regarding the recent elections and future American involvement in Afghanistan, where he served as the deputy special representative to the United Nations.
But the conversation quickly shifted to the new reports of his business interests in Kurdistan.
Defending his business decisions, Galbraith said "I actually find the article quite, well, it is full of innuendo. If you read the facts [with the implications and innuendo], I find [it] offensive."
Galbraith said he had a few business opportunities in 2004 after working in Iraq for the better part of a decade and the news article tries to portray his dealings as a conflict of interest.
"The article argues, or suggests, that somehow I had a conflict, hmm, it doesn’t say it, but there’s innuendo there. That there’s a conflict of interest because I advised the Kurds on the constitution at the same times I had business interests, including a contract with a Norwegian oil company DNO, in which I assisted them to make investments in the oil industry in Kurdistan," he said.
Regarding his relationship with DNO, he said, "I only wish what was described in the New York Times in terms of figures were true, but could be significant."
Pointing to a special interim constitutional provision for the Kurdish region, he said the native people pushed for complete ownership of all their natural resources and stand to reap the benefits from them.
"At the time that I was in Kurdistan and I helped them prepare that, I had no business deals whatsoever," he said. The Kurdish people pushed for an oil industry and with their blessing, Galbraith went out and brought in companies interested in investing in their resources.
In August 2005, Galbraith said he was asked by the Kurds to advise them on a permanent constitution, even after they were aware of his business interests with foreign oil companies. With the Kurdish political leaders controlling their own oil industry, it provides them an economic base for the people, a goal Galbraith said he always supported.
"I gave them advice and the end result that they achieved was identical to what was already proposed in February 2004," he said. "Now, it’s true that people in Baghdad may disagree with that, people in Washington may disagree with that, but there’s no conflict there. The advice I was giving and the economic interest were exactly, exactly congruent."
If you talk to a majority of the Kurdish people, they say the oil under their feet is a curse because it has given former Iraqi leaders the financial means to kill them, said Galbraith. By having their own natural resources, the Kurds have a vehicle to defend themselves against future attacks, he added.
"I make no apologies for my role here ... at that time, I was a private citizen. Private citizens engage in business, that’s what I did."
A former U.S. ambassador to Croatia during the Clinton administration, Galbraith serves locally as the principal at the Windham Resources Group based in Townshend. His most recent book about how the Iraq war has strengthened this country’s enemies was published last year.
In September, Galbraith was recalled from his representative position by the United Nations Secretary General over his disagreements with superiors regarding election fraud. He was fired after he accused officials of concealing electoral fraud during the Aug. 20 presidential vote.
The elections cost $300 million (two-thirds of it covered by American taxpayers) and was completely fraudulent because Afghan President Hamid Karzai ran the Independent Election Commission. "The only thing independent about it was its name," he said.
He expressed his concerns about the results, especially in districts reporting more than 100 percent electoral turnout.
Often considered by federal officials as a prominent and intelligent foreign policy maker, Galbraith is also seen as a "liberal hawk" in the Democratic Party because of his vocal support of the Iraqi invasion in March 2003.
The Windham World Affairs Council of Vermont sponsored the speaking event. This is the seventh time Galbraith has appeared in Brattleboro for the organization.
Chris Garofolo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.