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US Ambassador to Turkey Ricciardone says Washington seriously warned Ankara, Baghdad and Arbil not to take steps that would disintegrate Iraq

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Francis Ricciardone. 
AA photo

Francis Ricciardone. AA photo

Serkan Demirtaş Serkan Demirtaş serkan.demirtas@hdn.com.tr

Turkey and Iraq have no choice but to pursue strong ties if they want to optimize the use of Iraq’s resources and export them via Turkey, a top U.S. envoy has said, warning both that failure to do so “could lead to a more violent conflict and disintegration within Iraq.”

“If Turkey and Iraq fail to optimize their economic ties, the failure could be worse than that. There could be a more violent conflict in Iraq and [the chances of] disintegration within Iraq could be [strengthened],” Francis Ricciardone, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, told Ankara bureau chiefs yesterday. “Economic success can hold Iraq together. Failure could support those forces’ attempt to disintegrate. And that would not be good for Turkey, for the U.S. or anybody in the region, I believe.”

Ricciardone’s warning is the strongest public statement from an U.S. official on the ongoing disagreement over Turkish companies’ aggressive attempt to exploit northern Iraqi oil and gas reserves despite the absence of a law between the central and regional government on how to share the hydrocarbon revenues.

Ankara and Baghdad are at odds over Turkey’s direct crude trade with the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, with Baghdad calling the trade “smuggling.” Several international companies, including Exxon and Chevron, along with Ankara-based Genel Energy, are carrying out exploration activities in northern Iraq, which also angers the central government. Noting that Turkey, the U.S. and the Iraqi central and regional governments share a single strategic interest in optimizing Iraqi oil and gas outputs to world markets for future generations, the envoy said Iraq was struggling to pass a hydrocarbon law that was vital to both Turkey and the U.S.

“We’d love to see and Turkey would love to see [the provision of] access to not [only] 20 percent of the oil and gas that exists in Iraq, but to 100 percent of the oil and gas in the entire country. We’d love to see Turkish companies profit off that. We like to see Turkish consumers diversify their strategic resources. We would really regret it if Turkey would be limited to 20 percent of the oil and gas of Iraq,” he said. Washington would like to see Turkey become an alternative to the Strait of Hormuz in transporting Iraqi oil and gas to world markets through multiple pipelines, he added. Ricciardone praised Turkish entrepreneurs’ activities and successes in reaching out to the northern Iraqi market but said Turkey should consider all of Iraq.

“So for us, as difficult as it may be to work in this complicated political situation in Baghdad, it seems we have no choice but to have a strong Iraqi-Turkish relationship,” he said.

Implying that Turkey’s reconciliation with Iraq would keep the oil and gas-rich country on the side of the West, the ambassador said: “We are in very close touch with [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki.

We also have very good relations with the KRG. We are saying the same thing to our side: boys and girls, you’ll profit greatly when together; separately there are great risks and dangers.”

February/06/2013

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