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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Pushes for Energy Cooperation in Iraq Talks

APPrime Minister Vladimir Putin shaking hands with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Moscow on Friday.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with Russia's leaders on Friday to discuss Russia's push for a bigger role in Iraq's oil and gas industry.

During his first visit to Moscow as Iraq's leader, Nouri al-Maliki met with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin said before his arrival Thursday that a key issue is "the expansion of Russian companies' participation in major projects in the oil and gas industry, electric power" and other sectors.

Al-Maliki told Medvedev in a meeting at the Kremlin that Iraq is interested in Russian investment, and Putin said at an earlier joint news conference that talks focused on oil and gas cooperation.

Russian Energy Minister Sergei Schmatko said in comments carried by the ITAR-Tass news agency that the Iraqi government had promised that Russian companies would not be discriminated against in bidding for oil and gas-development licenses.

Putin vociferously opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 when he was president, but Russia is now eager to ensure it is not shut out of development activity.

In the past year, Iraq has given Russian oil companies, including Lukoil, state-owned Rosneft and Tatneft, the green light to bid against others worldwide for contracts to develop several promising fields.

Russia would like Iraq to honor deals clinched during Saddam Hussein's rule, including Lukoil's 1997 contract to develop the large West Qurna-2 field.

"We are interested, first of all, in sorting out the situation with contracts that were signed with the Russian side earlier," Deputy Energy Minister Anatoly Yanovsky said in a statement. He stressed that cooperation between Russia and Iraq "should not be discriminatory toward Russian companies."

The Iraqi dictator declared the Lukoil contract void shortly before the U.S. invasion. Iraqi officials have said it is no longer valid, but have invited the company to bid.

Lukoil chief Vagit Alekperov said he is hoping for progress on the issue, state-run news agency RIA-Novosti reported.