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OTTAWA Jan 8 A lobbyist for Libya's self-declared eastern government of Cyrenaica said on Wednesday that any talk of the region selling oil would have to wait until the country's political turmoil had ended.
Armed protesters who want Tripoli to share oil revenues seized three eastern crude export ports last year. They are now inviting foreign firms to buy crude from the ports, but Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said on Wednesday that Libya might sink tankers trying to load oil.
Documents filed in the United States show the pro-autonomy movement in Cyrenaica signed a deal last month with Montreal lobbying firm Dickens & Madson, which promised to help "by soliciting buyers for your oil when the need arises".
Ari Ben-Menashe, who runs the firm, said his priority was to seek U.S. and Russian support to help the Libyans set up a federal structure where Cyrenaica would have the status of an autonomous region.
"The whole idea is to see where we can take (this) and then we will deal with everything else because there has to be international legitimacy," he told Reuters in a phone interview from Montreal.
"What we are talking about is when the time comes - not now - when the time comes, we'll help them get oil sales going with revenue sharing," he said.
Libya's navy fired shots over the weekend to head off a tanker that officials said had planned to load at the eastern port of Es Sider, which the rebels control. Ben-Menashe said he did not approve of the bid to load oil.
"My reaction was 'What the hell are you doing?'" he said. "Sneaking in a tanker ... isn't something that's going to work."
Libya is in turmoil as the government struggles to rein in militias that helped topple leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Disputes such as the one between Tripoli and the pro-autonomy movement in Cyrenaica have slashed Libyan exports and helped pushed up the price of Brent crude.
Ben-Menashe said he thought there was a very good chance of the Libyan government and the pro-autonomy movement reaching a deal on revenue sharing and how to run the country.
"One side has 'international legitimacy' and the paperwork for the oil, the other guys have the oil. Now it's in the interests of both sides to sit down and talk," he said.
Pressed as to which oil firms he might be talking to, Ben-Menashe said he had had contacts with some companies that had a history of operating in Libya.
"We are talking about the same companies that may have had contracts with Gaddafi ... we're not talking about inventing the wheel all over again," he said, but gave no details.
"They would be interested to continue if things stabilize. ... They are actually helping us." (Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Jonathan Oatis)