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US will allow Russian businesses in Iraq: envoy
July 15, 2003

The United States is willing to allow Russian firms to do business in Iraq, the US ambassador to Moscow Alexander Vershbow said in an interview published here Tuesday.

But the envoy reiterated that the fate of oil contracts signed with the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein would be decided by the new Iraqi government.

"President (George W.) Bush said perfectly clearly in Saint Petersburg that we would not try to harm the interests of Russian companies," the envoy said, referring to a June 1 summit Bush held with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of Russia's second city.

"We will welcome the participation of Russian enterprises in the reconstruction of Iraq on a commercial basis," Vershbow said, as quoted in Russian by the Interfax news agency.

Russia has been seeking to ensure that Iraq's new government honors oil contracts worth billions of dollars (euros) signed under the leadership of toppled leader Saddam Hussein.

The ambassador noted that Washington had "agreed under UN Security Council resolution 1483 to extend for six months the (UN-mandated) oil for food programme allowing the majority of Russian contracts signed as part of that programme to be carried out."

In the oil sector, Vershbow stressed, "our position is absolutely clear: Iraqi oil and oil resources belong to the Iraqi people, and decisions about their development and future production will be taken by the future Iraqi government.

"Consequently, we have as it were 'suspended' the contracts signed by Russian companies with the former Iraqi regime. In other words, these contracts are being neither fulfilled nor broken.

"The decisions concerning them will be taken by the future (Iraqi) government," he said.

The Interfax interview with the US ambassador was carried out several days ago.

Vershbow arrived Tuesday in Sakhalin, in the Russian far east, where he is on a regional visit, the agency said.

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