Friday, September 21, 2007
IRAQ PLEDGES BENEFITS FOR RUSSIAN FIRMS, EXPECTS DEBT RELIEF
09-21-2007 RIA Novosti - Iraq's foreign minister said Friday his country could offer Russian oil and gas companies considerable advantages to operate in Iraq, and expects a deal later to clear 80% of Baghdad's Soviet-era debt. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told a RIA Novosti news conference: "Russian oil and gas producers are welcome in Iraq, and the Iraqi government is ready to grant them significant advantages." The minister said such benefits could be on the table prior to special oil and gas legislation being approved, but added that the offer should not breach free competition principles. Zebari also said the benefits will be fixed in a memorandum up for adoption following work to be carried out by the Iraqi-Russian commission later this year. Zebari added that his country did not feel burdened by contracts signed by the previous regime. But he recalled that Iraq owed Russia Soviet-era debt worth $13 billion and pointed to certain progress in resolving the issue. "We have found Russia to be understanding on the issue of settling the debts. We expect to sign an agreement with Russia to write off 80% of Iraq's debts by the end of the year," Zebari said. The Russian Finance Ministry earlier said the debt was some $10 billion. Zebari said Russian officials told him that the share to be written off could increase to 90%. When asked whether the debt settlement issue was connected with benefits promised to Russian oil and gas companies, the minister said: "We are not linking these two problems." But he stressed that any advance on these issues could "facilitate the signing of a framework agreement between the countries."