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Lukoil gets guarantees over Iraq from Putin

President Vladimir Putin has assured LUKoil, the nation's largest oil producer, that its valuable assets in Iraq will be protected whether or not Saddam Hussein is driven from power, LUKoil president Vagit Alekperov told the Financial Times in an interview published Friday.

Putin considers Russia's interest in the oil-rich nation a top priority, Alekperov said.

"I have been hearing guarantees from the Russian government," he was quoted as saying, adding that even if the Iraqi regime fell, as U.S. President George W. Bush wants, "the law is the law, the state is still there."

LUKoil, which is 14 percent owned by the state, has a 68 percent stake in a consortium to develop Iraq's giant West Kurna oil field, with reserves of 20 billion barrels. Some $6 billion has been invested in the field, the newspaper reported. Iraq, which has one of the world's largest crude reserves, has been prohibited from exporting at capacity since the Gulf War more than 10 years ago.

The United States and Britain have been pressuring Russia and the other two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- China and France -- for a new resolution to sanction the use of force against Iraq if it does not offer weapons inspectors unfettered access.

Bush warned Sunday that war may be unavoidable.

(The Moscow Times 07.x.02)

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