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PhinPhan1227
03-14-2003, 04:21 PM
WASHINGTON, March 14 (UPI) -- French and Russian oil and gas contracts signed with the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq "will not be honored," Kurdish Prime Minister Barhim Salih said in Washington Friday, just before a series of high-level meetings with Bush administration officials.
"A new Iraqi government should not honor any of these contracts, signed against the interests of the Iraqi people. The new Iraqi government should respect those who stood by us, and not those who stood beside the dictator," Salih added.

Russian and French oil corporations have each signed draft contracts with Iraq, to come into force only when the United Nations sanctions are lifted, for exploration, development and exploitation of the country's energy resources -- which geologists believe may be the world's second largest after Saudi Arabia. The value of the draft contracts, if fully taken up, is estimated to have a potential of more than $20 billion.

Although there have been dark hints that French and Russian opposition to a second U.N. resolution in the Security Council could have economic consequences, this is the first clear threat from a leading opposition figure from inside Iraq that their oil contracts will not be honored.

"France and Russia should make a decision where they stand," Barhim Salih added, speaking to U.S. policy experts and reporters at the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations Friday. "We would rather see them stand with us. They cannot have it both ways."

The only democratically elected political leader in Iraq, Salih is prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government in northern Iraq, and is expected to be one of the most powerful political figures in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, protected for a decade by British and U.S. warplanes enforcing the no-fly zone, has become an island of democratic and representative government. While there is no guarantee that Salih will be elected to a high position in whatever new government emerges after Saddam, the Iraqi Kurds as the best-organized and most cohesive group are expected to play a decisive role.