Ankara, which is attempting to walk a fine line between Baghdad and Arbil, stated that it has agreed on a bilateral oil agreement with the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) but added that it wants to gain the support of Baghdad -- a concern of the energy deals between Turkey and the Kurdish region -- by drawing it into the arrangement, which it calls "a three-way mechanism." Today`s Zaman reported.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, who attended a major energy conference in Arbil on Monday, said Turkey stands by the agreement it inked with the KRG, adding that Ankara hopes this agreement will be carried out through a three way-mechanism, which will include Ankara, Arbil and Baghdad.
"As Turkey, we are trying to move this forward in a careful and courteous way," added Yildiz.
On Sunday Yildiz arrived in the Iraqi capital, where he had talks with Iraqi officials about the roadmap of oil exports from the KRG and how revenues would be divided between Arbil and the central government of Iraq, a senior Turkish official from the energy ministry told Today's Zaman.
"Energy issues dominated Yildiz's talks in Baghdad with the Iraqi officials. The Iraqi central government conveyed its concerns to the Turkish side on the revenue and the oil exports issue, while the Turkish side noted that it would carefully consider the concerns of Baghdad. The talks were carried out in a positive atmosphere," added the official.
In Baghdad, Yildiz met with Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani. Following the meeting, Shahristani noted the two sides agreed that any exports must be with the approval of the Iraqi government and that the two sides would discuss the mechanism.
In the joint press conference, Yildiz said Turkey would seek Baghdad's approval for the commercial export of oil from the KRG, adding, "We aim to win the Iraqi central government's consent for oil trade from the KRG to Turkey and to start a plan of cooperation to serve the interests of all three parties."
On Monday in Arbil, Yildiz met with KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, who visited Ankara last week where he told reporters following a three-hour meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday that oil exports from the region to Turkey could start next month -- something that raised eyebrows in Baghdad.
Yildiz also met with KRG President Massoud Barzani before leaving Arbil for Ankara on Monday.
Turkey not to sit idly by regarding Kurds' oil, gas
Speaking to Rudaw, an online newspaper in Arbil, Yildiz noted that Ankara "will not sit idly" and ignore Kurdish supplies of oil and gas so close to its borders and said that the Washington and Baghdad would both drop their opposition to direct oil exports from the Kurdistan region once they were convinced of the transparency of the deal and saw that it benefits not only Iraq but the whole region.
Turkey's economic ties with the Kurdish region have not only raised eyebrows in Baghdad but also in Washington, which is concerned that bypassing the Iraqi central government could increase the already-high tensions between the KRG and the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad.
"What is important is that this is done transparently. I believe the more honestly we explain this issue to the US, the better they will understand. Our efforts for the benefits of both countries will be seen more clearly in the future," added Yildiz.
Nechirvan Barzani, who noted that the KRG would not relinquish its right to export oil to the world market, said that Baghdad had no cause for concern over revenue sharing, adding that he would assure Baghdad that this process is in the interests of the Iraqi people.
"The Kurdistan region wants to deal with these issues transparently and is ready for every negotiation with Baghdad," added Barzani.
Touching upon Baghdad's opposition to the KRG's direct oil deals with Turkey, Lataw B. Khalid from the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) said there would be no problems in the future when it would be understood that these deals would be for the benefit of all sides.
"We are acting in accordance with the Iraqi constitution and we are giving utmost importance to the territorial integrity of Iraq. Both Yildiz and the Iraqi officials delivered positive remarks during the talks. This is important," Khalid told Today's Zaman.
Turkey to act in accordance with Iraqi constitution
Yildiz also noted that the revenue is the property of Iraq and Turkey will act in accordance with the Iraqi constitution. The Turkish side has refrained from commenting publicly on the deals, saying that discussions with both Baghdad and Arbil are continuing.
Ankara said in a statement that during Barzani's visit to Ankara the two agreed on several commercial energy deals in compliance with the Iraqi constitution; however, it added that the deals have not yet been finalized.
"Our wish and preference is to undertake this matter within a tripartite framework and to bring it to a conclusion that will benefit our mutual interests and welfare," said the statement released by the Foreign Ministry on Saturday.
While turning over a new leaf in its relations with Baghdad, Turkey has offered to mediate the oil dispute between Kurdish authorities and the Iraqi central government. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently paid his first visit to Baghdad in four years to mend relations. It was said that Maliki would visit Turkey soon. Erdogan said he wants to pay an official visit to Iraq after Maliki's visit, traveling to both Baghdad and Arbil.
"Signing [deals] isn't that important. What is important is for the process to continue. Maliki's visit to Ankara and Erdogan's visit to Baghdad and our meetings with Shahristani and Maliki will only help the process. Also our meetings and discussions with Nechirvan Barzani and [KRG Energy Minister] Ashti Hawrami in Arbil will help strengthen our ties. I especially want to say that our friendship will contribute to the economic prosperity of both sides. God willing, we will carry this out in the coming days," said Yildiz.
Yildiz noted that payments for the KRG's oil will be collected in an escrow account at a Turkish bank. "Whatever amount of oil goes through here, it will be deposited in a special account, and the Iraqi government will see it daily. We have to be transparent about this," said Yildiz.