NATIONAL

‘Seoul announced Iraq oil deal prematurely’

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  • Published : Sept 29, 2011 - 15:20
  • Updated : Sept 29, 2011 - 20:32
The 2009 announcement by the South Korean presidential office of an oil field development project in Iraq was made prematurely and inaccurately, diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks suggested Thursday.

On Feb. 26, 2009, the office of President Lee Myung-bak announced leaders of South Korea and Iraq signed a non-binding agreement valued at $3.55 billion to develop an oil field in southern Iraq.

But on the same day, a Foreign Minister official told officials from the U.S. Embassy here that the announcement was “made prematurely” without a concrete agreement, according to a WikiLeaks cable Thursday.

The two leaders “did not have the time” to agree upon the details during their one-hour meeting and so the deal should be finalized during the ministerial-level talks in Baghdad next May, WikiLeaks quoted the official as saying.

Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani had spoken along the same lines in March 2009, claiming Korea has no agreement to develop an Iraqi oil field and that the talks “never progressed beyond a memorandum of understanding.” The Iraqi government had also repeatedly excluded South Korean firms from development bidding even after the leadership summit.

U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Kathleen Stephens also pointed out the inaccuracy of the Lee office’s announcement.

In the MOU, Iraq does not make a promise of products unlike the press release by the presidential office, Stephens said, according to WikiLeaks.

Calls for more cautious approach in overseas resources business have been escalating here in recent months as several projects either fell through or were proven not feasible.

The purported oil project in the Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, which was once touted as the first and most successful overseas oil exploration deal made by the incumbent South Korean government, was also recently dismissed as economically unfeasible by experts.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)