Iraq energy blues with the United States
Up until two days before Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s departure for the U.S. to meet with President Barack Obama on May 16, it was not 100 percent clear whether Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız would be in the official delegation for the visit. Again, up until two days before the departure from Ankara to Washington DC, it was not 100 percent clear whether Yıldız would attend an oil and gas conference to be held on May 30 in Arbil, where the headquarters of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq is.
Both of them became clear the same day; Yıldız got on board Erdoğan’s official “Ana” plane and he was enlisted to President Abdullah Gül’s official visit to Turkmenistan May 29 to 31, which meant Yıldız could not be in Arbil on the 30th. Yıldız had once wanted to join another oil and gas conference in Arbil but his plane had to return when the central government in Iraq denied it entry into Iraqi airspace on the grounds that he did not let them know first.
Yıldız clearly did not want to put himself and Turkey in a similar position for a second time, since there is no guarantee that the Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad, which is about to reach a solution on hydrocarbons law with the Kurds in the north will not make this an issue again. There has been a strong indication in the meantime. According to official sources who asked not to be named, a cabinet minister wanted to go to Arbil, together with ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) Deputy Chairman and Spokesman Hüseyin Çelik in late April, in the framework of the Erdoğan initiative to find a political solution to Turkey’s own Kurdish problem. But when Ankara got signals that a similar entry would take place, the plans for travel with a private jet were dropped and Hüseyin Çelik representing only the Party flew to Arbil on a scheduled commercial airliner on May 1 alone, the minister stayed in Ankara.
But that is not the only reason why Yıldız decided not to attend the May 30 conference in Arbil. First, he got an invitation from the U.S. deputy secretary Daniel Poneman (in the absence of a secretary for the time being) to have a conceptual meeting with him prior to the Obama-Erdoğan talk in the White House. The top item on the U.S. agenda is Iraqi oil, not only Kurdish, but as a whole. (By the way, one has to note down that Iraq wants to have a third pipeline in between where the Kurds could pump their oil in as well.) Yıldız, on the other hand, wants to make use of Cypriot and Israeli offshore gas fields via Turkey to European markets. Nuclear energy cooperation is another big issue, like transferring Azeri oil and gas to Europe.
But Turkey also wants to make use of the huge and almost untouched oil and gas resources of the Kurdish region of Iraq, next to its borders. Turkey-based Genel Energy already had big investments there, along with a number of Turkish private companies. But as he departed from Ankara, Erdoğan declared that Turkish state oil company TPAO had finalized a deal with American Exxon to cooperate in the KRG territory. That was an interesting maneuver before critical energy talks merged with diplomacy and also Turkish domestic politics. We may start seeing results right after Erdoğan’s meeting with Obama.