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Ankara seeks US help in oil row, says Bryza

10 February 2007 [12:45] - TODAY.AZ
The Turkish government has appealed to the United States to encourage the Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq to comply with energy agreements, Matt Bryza, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told the Turkish Daily News in an exclusive interview.

Bryza's remarks came after a row between Turkey and Iraq over the shipment of petroleum products, only resolved when Baghdad retracted a move to make Iraqi Kurds in the oil-rich north the sole interlocutors for contract renewals with Turkish companies.

Last month, Iraq's National Oil Company (SOMO) sent letters to Turkish companies, saying that they should deal in future with the autonomous Iraqi administration when doing business there. But Turkey rejected demands from SOMO, saying it deals only with the central Iraqi government and halted transport of refined oil products to Iraq via its Habur border crossing in protest.

A solution to the standoff came with SOMO stating that it was the only agency allowed to grant and renew contracts with Turkish companies, a move that eased Ankara's concerns about dealing with the Iraqi Kurds.

On the sidelines of the Istanbul leg of the Turkish-U.S. Economic Partnership Commission meeting on Thursday, Bryza also made remarks alleviating Ankara's concerns over the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) presence in northern Iraq.

Turkey is worried both about PKK bases in the northern Iraqi mountains and what future Iraq policies may emerge from the United States. Furthermore, ongoing Iraqi government discussions regarding an energy law that would empower its autonomous provinces, not Baghdad, to carry out energy deals continue to be problematic for Turkey.

"One: We completely understand why Turkey is uncomfortable," said Bryza. "Two: we unequivocally favor Iraq's territorial integrity, which President [George W.] Bush reiterated in his recent speech on Iraq. Three: the hydrocarbon law was not written by us but by a sovereign state that is Iraq."

Asked whether the United States had a conflict of interest between Turkey and northern Iraq, Bryza rejected such a notion, in apparent reference to the recent oil row between Ankara and Baghdad.

"Senior members of the Turkish government have appealed to us for the Kurds to honor existing energy agreements. So America does not have a conflict of interest; Turkey does not necessarily have a conflict of interest either, but definitely has many interests in northern Iraq," he said.

In the meantime, Dan Fried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, warned Turkey against a possible cross-border operation against the PKK camps in northern Iraq, saying that the Turkish government should think about the outcome of such an operation. Fried's remarks came during a video-conference with Turkish reporters on Thursday.

In Washington, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Turkey attributed due importance to Iraq's territorial integrity and said: "Iraq belong to Iraqis. While accepting Mosul as part of Iraq in 1926, we gave it to a united Iraq. We would like to see a united Iraq as an interlocutor," he said in a speech at the German Marshall Fund.

Turkey must provide favorable and secure energy contracts:

Energy was on everybody's mind at the Turkey-U.S. Foreign Economic Relations Council (DEIK) conference held in Istanbul on Thursday. Turkey is hopeful about becoming an energy transport hub for Europe.

Like the Greece-Italy pipeline due to be finished by 2011, the planned Nabucco duct raises hopes for providing Europe with natural gas from Central Asia, not Russia. It is set to run through Turkey to Vienna via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. However there are concerns that the Azerbaijan gas fields are not yet suitable for extraction.

"I don't know if Nabucco needs a lot of help from America and Europe, but we are all for it," said Bryza.

"Nabucco needs good, clear gas production from Azerbaijan. We believe that within five to 10 years this could be achieved and Azerbaijan could be producing enough gas."

The key issue is that Turkey and Azerbaijan agree on a transit regime with favorable and clear commercial terms to ensure unhindered transit, no matter how much gas Turkey buys from Russia, Bryza emphasized.

The Gazprom giant:

Russian President Vladimir Putin's strategy for hiking formerly subsidized gas prices for its neighbors or keeping them low in exchange for taking over infrastructure has come under severe international criticism.

Asked whether the United States felt apprehensive about Russian state-owned Gazprom's tactics, Bryza said that the United States stood for a free, competitive market.

"Gazprom is a monopoly," he emphasized, "and monopolies behave as monopolies. We don't like monopolies. People accuse us of disliking Russian monopolies and of favoring our own, but this is not true. The first anti-trust case in U.S. history broke up standard oil, an American company, in 1912." 

A Russian-Iranian cartel?:

In recent statements President Putin raised the possibility of a Russia-Iran agreement on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) model. Bryza said it was hard to tell if these were empty threats, adding, "I think the Iranians have proved themselves to be difficult associates."

Iranian oil supplies to Turkey have been interrupted on several occasions in the past few years; technical problems and winter conditions were blamed.

"We in the North Atlantic community don't like cartels, and will vigorously oppose cartels." 

An attack on Iran?:

"Although President Bush has said that no option is off the table, I don't think a [U.S.] attack on Iran is likely. Our policy is to change the behavior of the Iranian government through diplomacy, not to change the regime," stated Bryza. "We will do this through the U.N. and beyond the U.N." Turkish Daily News


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