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IRAQ - Turkish Role.

Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler was on March 8 quoted as saying IOCs were contacting the state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corp (TPAO) about exploration in northern Iraq. He said TPAO will soon evaluate the proposals. But what stood in the way of development was a tense relationship with Kurdistan region in the north. Ankara has warned of possible military action if the Kurds declared independence from Iraq and the two sides have disputes over oil products shipments.

Oil exploration in northern Iraq by TPAO will be discussed at a Turkish-Iraqi ministerial meeting scheduled for March 21. Private oil firms, including Genel Enerji of Cukurova Holding and Pet Oil are already active in oil exploration in northern Iraq.

Baghdad Conference Centres On Stability: Opening a rare security conference in Baghdad on March 10, Iraq's PM Nouri al-Maliki said his country should not be used for proxy wars between external powers, as US, Syrian and Iranian officials were brought together in this meeting. He said: "We will not accept that our lands, cities and streets serve as an arena for inter-regional or regional-international disputes". The US accused Iran of providing weapons to Shi'ite militias to kill US troops, a charge which Tehran denies.

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters: "I met with them (Iranian delegates) directly and I met with them in front of others and spoke to them across a table as well. I raised our concerns". Iran in turn raised the issue of six Iranian citizens arrested in January. Tehran claims they had diplomatic immunity and were "kidnapped", but US officials said they were suspected of involvement in violence, and were not diplomats.

In a press conference after the meeting, which brought together Iran's neighbours and representatives from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), Tehran's top delegate Abbas Aragchi repeated Iran's call to set up a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, which he said led to a "vicious cycle" of violence. Iraqi and US diplomats, however, stressed that the conference stuck strictly to the issue of Iraqi stability, avoiding the question of Iran's nuclear programme which the US at present refuses to discuss in bilateral talks.

The conference, which the Iraqis said was the largest international gathering in Baghdad since 1990, also included representatives from Iraq's other neighbours such as Turkey and Arab states, as well as the Arab League and the UN.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the conferees had agreed to set up technical committees to discuss security, the flood of Iraqi refugees into neighbouring countries, and energy supplies. Iraq took offence at a March 4 statement by the Arab League that it would urge changes in Iraq's constitution to give more political power to Sunnis. But Maliki on March 10 said Baghdad "had decided to reconsider" the document, a reference to a committee charged with reviewing the constitution and possibly suggesting amendments. Delegates also alluded to allegations that Arab states including Syria and Saudi Arabia allowed supporters of Neo-Salafi insurgent groups to operate from their territory.

Maliki said: "Confronting terrorism means halting any form of financial support and media or religious backing, as well as logistical support and the flow of arms and men who transform themselves into bombs that kill our children, women and elders, and destroy our mosques and churches".

The delegates agreed to hold a higher-level meeting bringing together the foreign ministers of the participating states possibly as early as April, but have not yet decided on a venue. Baghdad would like to host the conference, but Egypt has also volunteered. Khalilzad said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would attend the next meeting if it was held in Istanbul.

At the March 10 conference US officials told the Iranian team they had proof of Tehran's support for Shi'ite militias in Iraq. But in a later press conference, Iran's Aragchi mocked the Americans and said the claims were based on false intelligence, adding: "They have made so many mistakes...in Iraq...because of false information".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Operations in Oil Diplomacy
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Mar 19, 2007
Words:669
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