January 20, 2018 / 1:54 PM / in 2 months

UPDATE 1-Iraqi PM meets Kurdistan region leader for first time since independence vote

(Adds Barzani to visit Tehran, context)

BAGHDAD, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met on Saturday with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani for the first time since conflict broke out over a Kurdish independence referendum, officials said.

The Kurdish referendum on Sept. 25, which produced an overwhelming ‘yes’ for independence, angered Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbours Turkey and Iran, which have their own restive Kurdish minorities, and brought a rebuke from the United States and European Union, the Iraqi Kurds’ Western supporters.

At the meeting, Abadi renewed his conditions for lifting restrictions imposed on the Kurdistan region after the referendum, including a direct international air travel ban.

He said the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) airports and border crossings have to come under the control of the federal authorities, according to a statement from his office.

Abadi also demanded that the Kurds stop exporting crude oil from the KRG independently from the central government.

“Kurdistan delegation headed by @PMBarzani is in Baghdad now, met with @HaiderAlAbadi,” Hemin Hawrami, a senior official of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party said on Twitter.

“Later today the delegation will fly to Tehran for official meetings with senior Iranian officials Sunday,” added Hawrami, who is also an assistant of ex-KRG president Massoud Barzani.

Iraq’s central government said “an atmosphere of trust” marked talks held on Monday with the KRG to resolve their conflict, which saw armed clashes in October.

Under Abadi’s orders, government forces responded to the referendum by dislodging Kurdish militia from disputed regions including the oil city of Kirkuk.

Abadi also retaliated with a series of measures curtailing the KRG’s autonomy, including a ban on direct international travel to the two main Kurdish airports.

A TV channel close to the KRG, Rudaw, said on Monday Iraqi and Kurdish negotiators agreed on a series of points to jointly manage the airports of Erbil and Sulaimaniya. The KRG would accept that representatives of the Iraqi civil aviation authority would be posted in the two airports to oversee the implementation of federal regulations, it said.

Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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