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Biden presses Iraqis to agree on oil
Thu Sep 17, 2009 10:15am EDT
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By Ross Colvin
ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden flew to semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan on Thursday to press Kurdish leaders to compromise on the potentially explosive issue of how to manage and share the country's vast oil wealth.
Before boarding his plane, he said a dispute over land and oil between Kurds and the Shi'ite Arab-led government in Baghdad would not be settled until after national polls in January.
The feud is seen as the main threat to Iraq's stability.
A senior U.S. administration official said the vice president would repeat what he told Iraqi leaders in Baghdad a day earlier -- that it was in the interest of all Iraqis "to accept a slightly smaller piece of a much larger pie."
He would also urge passage of a hydrocarbon law, mired down by Kurd-Arab feuding for years, that would define sharing of oil revenues and clarify the rules for foreign oil firms investing in Iraq's oil and gas fields.
That legislation has been held up for years by the broader dispute. Iraq has the world's third largest oil reserves and needs foreign cash to boost production but investment has been partly held back by a lack of clear regulation.
How to manage oil production agreements and distribute revenues has been a sticking point between Kurdistan and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'te-led Baghdad government.
Biden arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday to urge Iraqi leaders to kick-start a political process mired in divisions. While overall violence has fallen sharply, lingering tensions between once dominant Sunnis, majority Shi'ites and ethnic Kurds still threaten to destabilize Iraq.
"In truth some of the more difficult problems are always difficult to solve in the midst of an election cycle," Biden told reporters on Thursday.
"So, a number of the problems, whether it is the oil law or some of the disputed internal boundaries, are going to have to wait for final resolution until the election."
As the foreign military presence dwindles with all U.S. troops due to withdraw by the end of 2011, the influence of the U.S. government is fading.
Biden was due to hold talks with Iraq's President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Masoud Barzani, the president of Kurdistan, on the third day of a trip to Iraq - his second visit to the war-wrecked country in around three months.
Some fear the row could trigger fresh fighting just as Iraq recovers from years of sectarian bloodletting unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, which killed tens of thousands.
Biden said progress was being made in bridging political differences. Asked whether his view was more positive on Kurdish and Arab relations than on his last trip, he said it was. Continued...
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