Iraq's President Jalal Talabani says Iraq's violence could be ended if neighbouring states Iran and Syria were directly involved in the stabilisation efforts. Here is the full text of the interview given to the BBC's Jim Muir.
BBC: You've just been on an extensive visit to America, and Condoleezza Rice was here even more recently. Do you have the impression that Washington is starting to lose patience with Iraq?
Talabani: There are some people who are impatient. And the public opinion of the USA has started to be impatient because they were expecting more developments in the situation especially in the security.
But I saw President Bush and all the main elements of the American politicians, congress, are determined to continue until the final success, and even Democrats are not for immediate removal of forces from Iraq because they are understanding the consequences of such a kind of work.
BBC: A lot of plans and possible scenarios are currently being discussed in America, by the Baker commission etc. Are you worried the Americans may decide three or four months from now to pull out of Iraq?
Talabani: No. I am not worried. I am sure no-one will decide to pull out quickly in Iraq.
BBC: But how long can they stay? It does not seem to be getting any better.
Talabani: This is the issue they are discussing now in the USA. The democrats are for the redeployment of the forces in Iraq, and a new kind of administration and arrangement of the forces and co-operation with Iraqis. While the Republicans are in the same line of President George W Bush.
BBC: What would work at this stage? Should the Americans stay as long as it takes, or should they have a withdrawal plan?
Talabani: It depends on the developments in Iraq. If we are able to implement our agreements such as the decisions of the political council of national security and the agreement between two blocs, Sunnis and Shias, Tawafuq and Ittilaf, and the national reconciliation appeal of Prime Minister [Nouri] Maliki, I think there will be a new Iraq, secure, and there will be a possibility of the multinational forces to think about withdrawal or a timetable for withdrawal.
BBC: But that's a very big if. All the plans so far got nowhere.
Talabani: No it is working. Look at the situation of Iraqi different parties. One year before, they were not ready to sit down to talk to each other. Now they are co-operating with each other, they are talking to each other, they are meeting in different groups and commissions in parliament, government, the presidency, and they are thinking together how to solve the problems of Iraq, and they reached good agreements.
Any kind of agreement is first starting with reaching and signing the agreement, then implementing it. The first step has been done. Now we are waiting the second, and I hope it will be, because everyone is in need of security in this country, and there is a general feeling among the people that there must be an end to this bloodshed.
BBC: But how? The Iraqi parliament recently passed a new law for a federal system involving setting up regional entities, but the Sunnis didn't approve, nor did half the Shia.
Talabani: This is one of issues or problems of Iraq. According to the constitution, Iraq is a federal state. According to the constitution, different provinces have the right to form a kind of regional government and elect a regional parliament. I think also people decided to postpone it for 18 months, so there is a feeling even among those who are supporting federation, that there must be a kind of consensus among different groups and parties and without the support of the majority of the people there will be no other regions.
BBC: But the Sunnis are not supporting, and now the insurgency groups, the Mujahideen Shura Council, announced an Islamic state in Sunni areas.
Talabani: [Laughs] This is something to laugh at. Some terrorist groups are announcing they have decided to form a government. I think it's a kind of joke rather than a serious thing. They are not controlling even any village to announce this. It is not like Kurdistan when we were controlling a big part of the country. Now all towns and provinces are under the control of government and MNF [multi-national forces], so this is some kind of wishful thinking.
BBC: Coming back to the Americans, do you get the impression America is preparing for action against Iran and they want to get Iraq finished first?
Talabani: No, no. On the contrary, my impression is that America is believing in dialogue and in a political solution for issues with Iran, not for war.
We think this is best way, to have a dialogue between the Americans and the Iranians about Iraq, with the participation of the Iraqi side, because both sides back the government here, there is no differences between the US and Iran in theory about Iraq, but there are in practice.
BBC: If Iran and Syria were involved in helping a solution would it make a difference?
Talabani: If Iran and Syria were involved in helping the Iraqi people it will be the beginning of the end of terrorism and securing Iraq within months.
BBC: Condoleezza Rice warned that sectarian warfare or problems were now more dangerous than the insurgency. Is Iraq now on the brink of a civil war?
Talabani: Well I cannot agree with this claim that sectarianism is more dangerous than terrorism. I think this sectarianism is also a threat to the national unity, and to the national reconciliation and perhaps it is the main obstacle in the way of national reconciliation and reaching agreement between all Iraqi political groups.
But the threat will remain the foreign terrorist invasion of Iraq. They recognised that they lost 4,000 foreigners in fighting against the Iraqi people. Imagine if they lost 4,000, how many thousands did they bring inside Iraq, those criminals coming from different parts of the world, concentrating here against this new democratic experiment of Iraq.
They want to turn Iraq into a new Afghanistan at the time of Taleban regime. So we are convinced that if the terrorism will be defeated it will also help the end of this kind of sectarianism, which is also a danger, which is also an obstacle in the way of national reconciliation.
BBC: When you see what has been happening in Balad - what is the best way to stop it?
Talabani: The best way is implementation of this agreement which was signed in presence of [Sunni] Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi and in the office of Prime Minister Maliki. And there is another proposal now that both Sunnis and Shias must co-operate and share responsibility for securing Baghdad.
They must together work to secure all areas, the Shias will take the responsibility of securing Shia areas and preventing militias and non-regular arms there, and the Sunnis will take responsibility for their areas to calm them down and to prevent terrorists from working there.
If this plan will be working I think it will help to end this, help to secure Baghdad. When we will be able to secure Baghdad there will be a possibility for ending terrorism all over Iraq.
BBC: Given the sectarian separation that has come about in recent months, is this possible solution, partition?
Talabani: It's very dangerous for Iraq, especially the Arab part of Iraq. Baghdad, Baqouba, the mixed areas - it is not so easy to implement this policy of ethnic cleansing. Nor Kirkuk or Mosul. There is no possibility of accepting such a kind of policy.
BBC: You used to say that militias could be part of solution, but the government now believes the Mehdi Army etc are a problem. What should be done about militias?
Talabani: I think some militias is going to be now obstacle in the way, especially those uncontrolled part of militia. Sayed Moqtada Sadr has appealed to his followers inside the Mehdi Army to obey the law, to prevent the bloodshed, to avoid killing people.
This was a good appeal but it seems that among those people who call themselves Mehdi Army are some people who are not controlled, who are perhaps coming from the fedayeen of Saddam or some others who lost their jobs, they are committing crimes in the name of Mehdi Army and I have been told by the prime minister that he is planning to go to see Sayed Moqtada and finish this issue with him because Sayed Moqtada is ready to co-operate in ending this kind of militia.
Militias must be solved in a way that they must be turned to official regular forces or to be retired or to be given other jobs, there should be only one regular army in Iraq.
BBC: But in al-Anbar there is an agreement with tribes to use them against the insurgency...
Talabani: This is temporary, we need to clean the issue of terrorists and prevent their return, and we need the support of the local people. So do they. It is like fish and water. If the water dries up, the fish will die. It will be the beginning of the end of terrorism.
BBC: Sectarianism, terrorism, criminality - will the Iraqi forces ever be strong enough to face these challenges on their own?
Talabani: Without the support of the people, no. But with the support of the Iraqi people, all the main political parties, moderate political groups, yes. We are not in need of a huge army. We cannot have it at all because now there is new climate in the country, so when we need to form new units of the Iraqi armed forces we must take in consideration the society and the desire of the people. So we need to have new army units, but well trained, well equipped and with stress on better quality rather than numbers.