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    Lavrov’s Efforts to Protect Russian Interests Deserve Admiration – Iraqi Envoy

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    MOSCOW (Sputnik) - Iraqi Ambassador to Russia Haidar Hadi in an interview to Sputnik spoke about his attitude to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, Iraq-Russia cooperation and the importance of Syrian National Dialogue Congress.

    "I admire some diplomats. One of them on the Russian side is Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. He is doing a great job when it comes to representing his country and defending Russian interests on the international arena. He is an experienced diplomat," Hadi said in the interview ahead of Diplomat's Day, marked by Russia on February 10.

    The Iraqi diplomat stressed that Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, whom Hadi called his "good friend," was another prominent Russian diplomat who was well-known in the Arab world, and among most Arab leaders and politicians.

    Hadi noted that during his almost one-year service as ambassador to Russia, a number of achievements were reached, among them re-establishing direct air traffic between Moscow and Baghdad as part of Iraqi Airways’ over decade-long restoration of international services. According to the Iraqi diplomat, a number of top officials visited Moscow last year, including the vice-president, head of the parliament, foreign and oil ministers, as well as the sports and youth minister.

    Relations between the two countries are already strong, the Iraqi diplomat highlighted, adding that his job was to strengthen these ties even more and take this partnership to a new level.

    Iraq-Russia Cooperation to Be Unaffected by Rosneft’s Projects in Kurdistan

    The activities of Russian oil giant Rosneft in Iraqi Kurdistan will not hurt Moscow-Baghdad bilateral economic cooperation, despite the existing tensions between the Iraqi government and autonomous region that were triggered by Kurdistan's independence referendum, Iraqi ambassador said.

    "Rosneft issue is already under discussions…. I hope that there is an intention from both sides to resolve the issue. Our relations with Russian are very strong and I don't think this issue will become an obstacle for our economic cooperation. There will be some discussions and hopefully they will lead to some solutions that make both sides happy," the diplomat said.

    Hadi noted that the issue had been discussed at a high level.

    "Last month there was an important meeting in Baghdad with the deputy energy minister of Russia, who visited Baghdad heading an official delegation. He met his counterpart in Baghdad. They discussed the issues of Rosneft. Also two months ago I was in Baghdad with [Russian Energy] Minister [Alexander] Novak. He discussed the issue with the Iraqi Oil Ministry," the ambassador said

    The situation is unfortunate for Rosneft, since it bypassed the proper channels through the Iraqi government when it signed the contracts with Kurdistan, unlike Lukoil and Gazprom, the ambassador noted.

    "We don't mind doing business in Kurdistan. Kurdistan is a part of Iraq but it has to be in accordance to the constitution. The Federal government is in charge of the whole country. Contracts such as oil contracts have to be signed with the Federal government… To my knowledge, Gazprom has projects in Kurdistan but they went through the Iraqi government," Hadi said.

    Rosneft should renegotiate the contracts with Iraqi government, Hadi added.

    "That would be the reasonable solution. That probably is the only solution to negotiate the issue with the Federal government, to find a solution with legal experts from both sides and go through the contract," the ambassador concluded.

    Rosneft and the oil-rich region Iraqi Kurdistan have signed a number of agreements on cooperation in the sector of exploration and production of hydrocarbons. In October, the Russian company and Iraqi Kurdistan signed the documents necessary for the implementation of the Production Sharing Agreements (PSA) concerning five production blocs in the autonomous region. The sides also announced the launch of an infrastructure project in Iraqi Kurdistan.

    On September 25, Iraqi Kurdistan held an independence referendum, with around 93 percent of the voters supporting secession from Iraq. Baghdad called the referendum illegal and refused to recognize its results. In response, Iraq imposed sanctions on the Kurdish regional government and launched a military operation in the territories disputed between Erbil and Baghdad, starting with the Kurdish-controlled, oil-rich province of Kirkuk.

    The extension of Erbil's cooperation with foreign oil companies has been strongly criticized by Baghdad, which considers all deals not concluded by the central government illegitimate. In late October, Iraqi Oil Ministry spokesman Asem Jihad told Sputnik that the ministry had requested Rosneft to clarify its position on contracts with Iraqi Kurdistan. A spokesman for Rosneft replied that the company did not have to report to Baghdad regarding its decisions, while the company's CEO Igor Sechin stressed that the company complied with local laws.

    In late January, Iraqi Cabinet Secretary General Mahdi Alaq told Sputnik that while Baghdad would not persecute Rosneft for its contracts with Iraqi Kurdistan, it also would not adhere to contracts signed with Erbil.

    Baghdad Expects Russian High-Level Delegation at Forum on Iraqi Restoration

    Iraq is expecting Russia to send a high-level business delegation to take part in a conference on the restoration of Iraq's regions, which will be held in Kuwait on February 12-14, Haidar Hadi noted.

    On Thursday, the Russian ambassador to Iraq confirmed that Russia would be represented at the forum, but said the level of the delegation had not yet been determined.

    "We have an important conference in Kuwait next week dedicated to reconstruction of Iraq. Russian side received invitations and, according to my information, it will be a high-level delegation attending the conference with Russian companies and businesses," Hadi said.

    He noted that the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that Iraq could count on Moscow's full support during the reconstruction period. At the same time, Russian businesses have shown great interest in being a part of this process, according to the diplomat.

    "Next week I am attending an economic forum in Sochi. It is an important forum. I will be meeting with different Russian companies from all over Russia and discussing with them different opportunities and hopefully to encourage them to go to Iraq and be a part of reconstruction efforts," Hadi said.

    The ambassador noted the expertise and experience of Russian companies, and said he hoped they would operate in Iraq.

    "The Russian companies have already expressed their interest in participating in reconstruction of Iraq in different fields such as building roads, building schools, helping with the infrastructure. After defeating IS [the Islamic State terrorist group, outlawed in Russia] we have large areas of Iraq almost completely destroyed so we need to start building infrastructure from scratch," he concluded.

    In December, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi declared the country's fight against the IS over after Iraqi troops re-established complete control over its Syrian border.

    On January 24, Kuwait's Ambassador to Moscow Abdulaziz Adwani told Sputnik that Russia was invited to participate in the forum.

    Syrian National Dialogue Congress Important Step for Crisis Settlement

    Baghdad considers the recent Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in Russia's resort city of Sochi an important development that has moved forward the process of settling Syria's long-standing crisis by political means and bringing peace to the country, Hadi said.

    On January 30, Sochi hosted the Syrian National Dialogue Congress bringing together representatives of numerous opposition and pro-governmental forces, as well as representatives of all Syrian ethnic and religious groups in order to push forward the process of political settlement. The representatives of Syria's government and opposition were able to meet face to face for the first time since the outbreak of the civil war.

    "Iraq sees the Congress in Sochi as an important step towards finding a peaceful solution. Iraq from day one supported a peaceful resolution of the crisis. We have long borders with Syria so it is very important for Iraq to find long lasting peace in Syria. We defeated terrorism in Iraq so it is very important for us to see security and free Syria [of the Islamic State terrorist group, which is outlawed in Russia]," Hadi said.

    Baghdad was very interested in participating in the conference as an observer, because the stability of Syria was in Iraq's interests, the diplomat added.

    The settlement process for the Syrian conflict, which broke out in 2011, has been discussed on a number of international platforms, such as those in Geneva and Astana. The Syrian National Dialogue Congress was the first attempt to gather a wide range of people representing various groups of Syrian society at one venue.

    The main result of the event was the creation of the Constitutional Commission, which would work in Geneva and focus on amending Syria's existing constitution. The participants of the congress also adopted a final communique endorsing the general principles of the future statehood of Syria, such as the country's territorial integrity and respect for all religious and ethnic groups' rights.

    Iraqi Foreign Minister May Visit Moscow in February

    Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jaafari may visit Moscow in February to lead the country's delegation at the meeting of the Iraqi-Russian intergovernmental commission, Iraqi ambassador said in an interview.

    "This year we are working on holding the VII session of Iraqi-Russian intergovernmental commission. It will take place in Moscow. We are trying to make it in February, however, we still don't have dates. There is some official communication between both sides. The Iraqi side would be led by Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and the Russian side will be led by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin," Hadi said.

    According to the ambassador, the timing of the meeting "will be very important" as Iraq is entering a period of reconstruction.

    "We won a war against IS [Islamic State terrorist group, banned in Russia] and now we are entering a new phase," he added.

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