Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu al-Ragheb arrived in Baghdad on November 1st, marking the first visit by a top-level Arab official since the 1990-91 Gulf War.
Al-Ragheb was accompanied by a delegation of seven ministers, 12 senators and deputies and senior energy and trade officials. He said before his departure that: “We hope to consolidate Jordanian-Iraqi ties,” through talks focusing on energy, transport and commerce.
Al-Ragheb’s visit follows that of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who met with Saddam Hussein on August 10th, despite strong U.S. disapproval. Chavez was the first democratically elected leader to meet face-to-face with the Iraqi president in a decade.
Officials said off the record that al-Ragheb’s visit is a gesture to Iraq, driven by the desire to secure a renewal of the annual oil accord between the countries that supplies Jordan with crude and refined products on concessionary terms.
This year’s deal, worth at least $700 million, provided Amman with half of its oil at no cost and the rest at $19 a barrel. Jordan hopes to secure similar terms for next year, but sources have suggested that Baghdad might charge at least $24 a barrel.
Prior to the Gulf War, bilateral trade between the two countries topped $1.5 billion a year, but Jordan’s exports to Iraq have slipped to around $250 million annually.
Al-Ragheb is also expected to discuss a proposed pipeline to carry Iraqi crude to a refinery near al-Zarqa. Iraqi Oil Minister Amer Rasheed said on October 29th that Baghdad had completed plans for its section of the proposed $350-million pipeline, but was waiting for Amman to decide when to commence construction.
The two countries signed a preliminary agreement in 1998 to build the 720-km / 450-mile pipeline from the Iraqi pumping station in Haditha. Jordan currently receives Iraqi oil exports over land routes.