DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Iraq is interested in re-activating a pipeline linking its oil centre of Kirkuk to a Syrian port only if it could be secured, Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said on Monday.
The two countries, which are at odds politically, have been discussing restarting the 880-km (550 miles) pipeline from Kirkuk to the Banias terminal on the Mediterranean.
The pipeline, which was built in the early 1950s, was bombed by the United States during its invasion that removed Saddam Hussein from power in 2003 and ushered instability, including relentless sabotage against Iraq’s oil infrastructure.
“The main issue is security. We hope for a joint effort with Syria to secure the pipeline so we can begin overhauling it on the Iraqi side,” Sharistani told Reuters after meeting his Syrian counterpart Soufian Alao.
Shahristani said the pipeline was a focus of the talks.
“We will only embark on repairing the damaged sections if sabotage attacks stop. The Syrian part of the pipeline is virtually ready to operate,” said Shahristani, who is accompanying Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on a visit to Syria.
Maliki held talks in Damascus on Monday aimed at convincing Syria, which has a 360-km (225 miles) border with Iraq, to stop what Baghdad sees as support for rebels fighting his U.S.-backed government. Damascus denies this and says a stable Iraq is in its interest.
An Iraqi official said improved economic ties could help convince Damascus to help the Baghdad government improve security. Shahristani steered clear of describing ways Syria could help stop sabotage attacks.
“There is mutual desire to rehabilitate the pipeline and resume the export of Iraqi crude oil through Banias,” he said.
Sabotage has all but stopped Kirkuk flows through another pipeline to Turkey’s Ceyhan port. Most of Iraq’s oil exports, which ran at 1.8 million barrels per day in July, originate from the south and are exported by sea.
Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Abdallah al-Dardari said several months ago that Syria wants to resume its role as a main conduit for Iraqi oil exports and eventually take in crude for three refineries it plans to build.
Economic ties between Iraq and Syria improved in the final years of Saddam’s rule and 100,000-200,000 bpd were pumped through the Kirkuk-Banias line. The flow stopped at the time of the U.S.-led invasion.