New Delhi: India and Iraq, which is second largest oil exporter to the country, Friday inked a key pact for conclusion of a 13-year-old contract for exploration of an Iraqi block estimated to hold 645 million barrels of in-place reserves under a broad-based energy cooperation agreement.
It was signed along with three other agreements after comprehensive talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Iraqi counterpart Nouri al-Maliki on strategic bilateral, regional and international issues, including trade and Indian investments in the war-wrecked country.
At a joint press event, Singh said, "Our energy trading relationship should be turned into a strategic partnership, including through joint ventures in oil exploration" and also noted that the two sides agreed to expand cooperation in agriculture, water resource management, pharmaceuticals, health care and information technology.
"We also agreed to further strengthen our counter- terrorism and intelligence cooperation.... Peace, security and stability in West Asia and North Africa are vital to both our countries," Singh added.
On his part Maliki said, Iraq has overqualified Indian companies such as ONGC Videsh Limited, MRPL and Reliance for participation in the Nasiriya Project Bid Round.
He also said Iraq has offered three oil blocks in Middle Furat Oil Field -Kifil, West Kifil, & Merjan- on nomination basis to Indian public sector oil companies.
The MoU in energy sector envisages cooperation in the areas of upstream and downstream oil and gas activities and related infrastructure, more specifically in the conclusion of contract of Exploration Block-8 awarded to ONGC Videsh Limited, offer of data of Middle Furat group of Fields for due diligence, natural Gas, petroleum Refineries and training.
Block-8, located in the western desert in southern Iraq bordering Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, was awarded to OVL in November 2000 by the then Saddam Hussein government. However, the government formed after the US invasion of the oil-rich country sought re-negotiation of the contract which has been pending so far.
The post-Saddam Hussain regime had initially agreed to signing of a Production Sharing Contract (PSC), where OVL would have got ownership of the oil it produced from Block-8. But the success of post-war licencing rounds, where global majors committed to develop oilfields for a small fee, has seen Baghdad change track and offer a service contract to OVL.
The Block 8 already has a discovery and is estimated to hold 645 million barrels of in-place reserves, of which 54 million are recoverable.
Other documents inked included MoU on Bilateral Cooperation in Water Resources Development and management, Foreign Office Consultations and training of diplomats.
Earlier, Maliki, while interacting with Indian industry leaders invited investments in sectors like infrastructure, agriculture and healthcare to help re-build the war-ravaged country.
"I repeat my invitation to India for mutual partnership. We need to increase our cooperation.... In the recent times, Iraq was subject to various obstacles. We are rebuilding our country," Maliki said.
He said Iraq will provide great opportunities and avenues in different sectors. The Middle-East country has also framed legislations to protect investments.
"Iraq is a rich country not just in oil. We can utilise and exploit our capacities in the best way (to enhance our economic ties)," he added.
The Iraqi Prime Minister, who is leading a 17-member business delegation here, said the purpose of this visit is to integrate with India as both the countries have potential.
"We are in the process of rebuilding our country which was destroyed by dictatorship. On India, we rely much. There is much progress in Iraq but we still require much more," he said. "We need cooperation from both the government and the private sector," he added.
Later, a joint statement said India also extended support to Iraq in its ongoing rebuilding and reconstruction efforts with Singh renewing India's commitment to participate constructively in this process through the involvement of Indian companies in infrastructure projects.
Condemning the phenomenon of terrorism and extremism, the two sides affirmed that it threatened all societies and was not linked to any race, colour or belief.
"The international community must, therefore, resolutely combat terrorism," it said.
The two sides discussed several regional and international issues, including the security situation in West Asia, Middle East and South Asia which saw convergence of views on the subject, the statement said.
Agreeing that Afghanistan issue concerned regional security and stability, the two sides reiterated their support for an "Afghan-led, Afghan-owned" reconciliation process and their commitment to working with regional countries and the international community to help Afghanistan achieve its objective of peace, stability, independence and development at an early date.
The two leaders discussed situation in Syria and called upon all sides there to abjure violence and resolve all issues peacefully through dialogue taking into account the aspirations of the people of the country.
They also emphasised the importance of an effective multilateral system centred on United Nations and reflective of contemporary realities as a key factor in tackling global challenges.
"In this context, they stressed upon the urgent need to pursue reforms of the United Nations, including of the Security Council, through an expansion in both categories of its membership, to make it more representative, credible and effective," the joint statement said.