* Energy cooperation with Iraqi Kurds hot topic in U.S.
* Partnership between Exxon, KRG to be discussed with Obama
ANKARA May 14 A Turkish firm is partnering with
the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Exxon Mobil
to carry out oil exploration in northern Iraq, Turkey's prime
minister said on Tuesday, taking Turkey's cooperation with Iraqi
Kurds on energy one step further.
Oil is at the heart of the fight between the Arab-led
central government in Baghdad and the ethnic Kurdish-run
northern enclave as they dispute control over oilfields and
territory and the sharing of crude oil revenues.
Exxon, a global oil company based in Texas, was the first to
sign up for exploration deals with the KRG. Others including
Chevron, Total and Russia's Gazprom Neft
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said an agreement was in place
for a Turkish company to become a partner with Exxon and the KRG
and that details would be clearer after his U.S. visit.
"Our oil company already has an agreement with Exxon Mobil
in place ... This is a step with the KRG on exploration work,"
Erdogan told reporters at Ankara airport before heading to the
United States for an official visit. He is due to meet U.S.
President Barack Obama on Thursday.
Until now, resource-hungry Turkey has been a customer and a
transportation outlet for oil exports from the Kurdish region.
With this agreement, the Turks would play an active role in
exploiting Iraqi Kurdistan's rich hydrocarbon resources.
Baghdad says it alone has the authority to control exports
from Iraq and that deals between oil companies and the KRG are
illegal. Leaders of the autonomous Kurdish region say their
right to control oil resources is enshrined in Iraq's federal
constitution, drawn up following the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
Turkish industry sources said the likely partner is Turkish
Petroleum International Company (TPIC), an arm of state-run
Turkish Petroleum (TPAO). A spokesman for the company could not
immediately be reached for comment.
Washington, wary of the divisions between Baghdad and the
Kurdish region, has urged passage of a long-delayed national oil
law to resolve the standoff, which has intensified since the
last U.S. troops left in December 2011.
"We will develop our steps after this visit," Erdogan said,
referring to the plans for northern Iraq, without specifying
what the agreement would involve.
The Turkish company will take equity stakes in a partnership
with Exxon and KRG and would become part of the
production-sharing agreement, an Ankara-based energy source
Another energy official in Ankara said any contracts would
be in the form of commercial agreements signed between
companies, not an agreement between governments.
During his U.S. visit, Erdogan will seek Obama's support for
further energy deals that Turkish companies are hoping to strike
in northern Iraq.