UNITED NATIONS - The United States warned Wednesday it may not be able to help Iraq's Kurds negotiate a better deal with the Iraqi government if they go ahead with an independence vote.
Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region is to hold a referendum on formally splitting from Iraq on September 25, despite fierce opposition from Baghdad and its neighbours.
Washington has traditionally been a friend to the Kurds, and in some parts of the region relies on Kurdish militia fighters in its wars against jihadist extremists.
But the United States fears the vote will disrupt the campaign against the Islamic State group and destabilize Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's government.
High-level US envoys have beaten a path to Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani's door to plead with him to call off the referendum and negotiate a better autonomy deal instead.
"The United States urges Iraqi Kurdish leaders to accept the alternative, which is a serious and sustained dialogue with the central government, facilitated by the United States and United Nations, and other partners, on all matters of concern, including the future of the Baghdad-Erbil relationship," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
"If this referendum is conducted, it is highly unlikely that there will be negotiations with Baghdad, and the above international offer of support for negotiations will be foreclosed," she said.
The spokeswoman acknowledged the Kurds have "legitimate grievances," but argued these would be better addressed in US and UN-mediated talks and reiterated that the US is "strongly opposed" to the referendum.