Foreign Minister Denies Secret Talks with U.S. Over Iraqi Oil

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Moscow had not held any secret talks with Washington to protect its economic interests in Iraq, despite growing pressure from Russian oil majors.

LUKOIL, which has signed a $4 billion deal to develop Iraq's West Qurna oilfield when UN sanctions end, has pressed Moscow to seek guarantees from the US to protect Russian interests in a post-Saddam Iraq. Russian oil firms are also among the top buyers of Iraqi crude, buying annually oil worth $5 billion.

"We have never hidden the fact that Russia has serious interests in Iraq, Ivanov told a news conference. But he denied Moscow and Washington were in secret negotiations. Russia, which has so far objected to military action in Iraq to oust President Saddam Hussein, has long had close economic ties with Iraq, including Soviet-era debt worth several billion dollars, the Russia Journal reported.

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