PUTIN, ALYAVI TO OUTLINE RUSSIA'S PROSPECTS IN IRAQ

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MOSCOW, November 24 (RIA Novosti's political analyst Marianna Belenkaya) - A meeting between Vladimir Putin and Ayad Alyavi, Prime Minister of the Provisional Government of Iraq, will be held in Moscow in December, the Kremlin press service reports. It will be his first visit to a country which has not supported the Iraq war. Until now, the Iraqi premier has not been to Paris or Berlin, which together with Moscow were the main opponents of the forcible overthrowing of the Saddam Hussain regime. These cities may be included in Alyavi's trek.

Noteworthily, the visit was announced just after it became known that the Paris Club has written off 80 percent of the Iraqi debt. It is to be recalled that this decision was taken a year ago and only the sum was in debate. Figures varied between 2 and 90 percent (the optimal version was between 50 and 65 percent). Till the last minute France, Germany and Russia were not going to write off a big sum, which has eventually been decided upon. There are no official explanations why they have taken the step. Clearly, the reasons were purely pragmatic.

This way or another, the unpleasant debt theme has been removed from the agenda of the Russian-Iraqi (may be also French-Iraqi and German-Iraqi) talks. On the contrary, Ayad Alyavi's visit to Moscow may begin with words of gratitude.

By the way, Moscow (as well as the other capitals) does not expect from Alyavi abstract words but a confirmation that the Russian companies will preserve most of the contracts concluded before the Iraq war. And besides, Russia wants guarantees that, like other countries not in the American coalition, it will on a par with others participate in new tenders in Iraq. Minding their experience of work in Iraq, the Russian companies stand a chance of winning many tenders, provided competition is honest. It is not to be forgotten that Russia has geological survey maps of Iraq's many promising oil and gas fields. This is why Putin and Alyavi will focus on the outlook for the Russian companies' work in Iraq. However, concrete contracts will hardly be in discussion at the talks except Lukoil's contract for developing the West Qurna field, much spoken of at every Russian-Iraqi meeting. The point is that the fate of concrete contracts will be decided by the government of Iraq which, if all goes right, can be formed after the Iraqi parliamentary elections.

The elections, set for January 30, 2005, and the political settlement in general will be another theme for Alyavi's talks in Moscow. Many Russian proposals were adopted last week at the Sharm el-Sheikh international conference on Iraq. Particularly, the decision has been taken to create a mechanism of control of the Iraqi political process, thus corroborating the need of reaching agreement between different political groups in Iraq before the elections. The next month will show how the Russian proposals will be translated into reality. In Moscow Alyavi and Putin will be able to consider the first results of the Sharm el-Sheikh conference.

Also, the very fact of a personal meeting between the Russian president and the Iraqi prime minister is important. Alyavi's Moscow visit will show in fact what the political and economic outlook for Russia in the new Iraq is.

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