Turkey, US to hold intensifed Iraq talks

Turkey, US to hold intensifed Iraq talks

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey, US to hold intensifed Iraq talks

President Abdullah Gül (L) welcomes US VP Joe Biden in Ankara in this 2011 photo. Turkish and US officials plan to hold Iraq talks, including energy.

Turkey and the United States are to hold intensified talks on Turkish energy companies’ involvement in northern Iraq, which has drawn Washington’s annoyance and concerns that the rapprochement between Ankara and Arbil could further push Baghdad toward Tehran.

Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry Feridun Sinirlioğlu is scheduled to visit Washington late next week to hold talks with his counterpart, Deputy Secretary William Burns, and other senior diplomats. Although Sinirlioğlu’s talks will include a number of serious issues varying from Syria to Iran, ongoing disagreement with Washington on Turkey’s growing energy ties with northern Iraq will be among the top agenda issues.

Turkey’s top diplomat is also planned to include bureaucrats from the Energy Ministry and other relevant ministries to hold detailed talks about Turkey’s ongoing activities in northern Iraq.
With its rich and still-undiscovered oil and gas reserves, northern Iraq attracts major foreign companies to obtain drilling licenses and to transport products to world markets. However, due to the fact that Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (IKRG) failed to agree on how to share oil and gas revenues, foreign companies cannot operate the licenses issued by the autonomous Kurdish administration.

Turkey and northern Iraq have developed trade and energy relations in recent years and are believed to be close to signing a major energy agreement. A number of Turkish companies are already active in northern Iraq, which adds further fuel to already-tense Ankara-Baghdad ties.

For Washington, ongoing trouble in Iraq is much more worrisome than Syria, as a potential conflict could easily include various regional countries, such as Iran and Turkey. It is also trying to prevent further rapprochement between Iran and Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

‘Forty American companies active in northern Iraq’

In an interview with daily Hürriyet, the Turkish envoy to Washington, Namık Tan, explained the fault lines of the disagreement between Ankara and Washington over northern Iraq. Turkey and the U.S. do not see eye to eye on resource extraction in northern Iraq, he said, while declaring that U.S. companies are not even following their own country’s directives.

“It seems like Turkey’s acceleration of new projects with Iraqi Kurds in the north of the country has not pleased Baghdad and Washington,” Tan said.

“Is it possible for a country that has multiplied its citizens’ prosperity three or five times to turn its back on some [natural] resources next to its own land? I’m not talking within the context of northern Iraq; it’s also the south there. Iraq is an entire country. Turkey cannot ignore that, but we want to do [business] in compliance with the Iraqi Constitution, on a legal basis,” Tan said, adding that Washington was discouraging Ankara by suggesting that Turkish involvement in northern Iraq “helps divide Iraq.”

Tan also said there were more than 40 U.S. companies in northern Iraq – a fact that contradicts the U.S.’ own arguments.

“Any firm you can imagine [operates] there, but my firms will not be able to,” he said. “This is not a convincing argument. Really it is nonsense. They say, ‘You cannot convince us,’ and we go, ‘You cannot convince us either.’ We will not have a conflict here on this issue. We will talk and find a common basis for a solution. However, if they think that we will turn our back on those resources and shelve [this opportunity], they cannot convince us of that.”

Appointment sought with John Kerry

Sinirlioğlu is also expected to meet with the next U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, if an appointment can be made. Apart from its heavy agenda, the visit will also serve as a preparatory one for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s likely visit to Washington in coming months. Sinirlioğlu is also scheduled to visit Moscow by the end of this month to discuss developments in Syria.