Russia forgives 12 billion dollars in Iraqi debt

( dpa ) - Russia signed an agreement with Iraq on Monday forgiving almost all of 12.9 billion dollars debt owed after visiting Iraqi foreign minister signalled renewed opportunities for Moscow's participation in the country's lucrative oil sector.

Russia will write off 93 per cent or 12 billion dollars of Iraq's debt to Moscow, Interfax news agency quoted Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin as saying in Moscow on Monday.

Kudrin added that Russia's potential investment in Iraq could count up to 4 billion dollars.

" Russia counts on a favourable climate for our companies in Iraq," the finance minister stressed.

"We are interested in the complete restoration of Iraq's economy," he added.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiar al-Zibari in turn promised that "the signing of an agreement to write off the debt will create opportunities for cooperation between Russia and Iraq in all spheres."

Iraq has some of the world's largest oil reserves and Russian energy giant Lukoil has long been lobbying to preserve contracts signed under the former Iraqi regime.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reaffirmed Russia's commitment to aid in Iraq's post-war reconstruction, placing special emphasis on the two countries "traditional" area of cooperation - the energy sector.

"Our energy specialists have long worked in Iraq in difficult conditions, in particular in Baghdad, Basra and Nasiria," Lavrov told journalists in Moscow.

Speaking after his meeting with Zibari, Lavrov said: "Russian companies are going to actively participate in reconstruction, but ... it is first necessary to solve two political issues: to achieve national reconciliation and settle the security issue."

"We expect to change views on how Russia can assist the efforts of the world community in this area," he added.

Iraq's debt to Russia has been estimated at 12.9 billion dollars. The deal on Monday was signed under the 2004 Paris Club agreement, in which creditor nations agreed to write off 80 per cent of the wartorn country's debt.

The agreement reduces Iraq's outstanding debt to 900 million dollars, which will be payed back gradually over a 17 year period, Kudrin was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Russia's biggest private oil company Lukoil, which worked in Iraq under the Saddam Hussein regime until 2002, hopes to retain a contract to develop the vast West Qurna field when the new Iraqi government regulates the sector.

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