Friday, August 27, 2004

IRAN BACKS RP TROOP PULLOUT FROM IRAQ

IRAN BACKS RP TROOP PULLOUT FROM IRAQ

MANILA, August 27 , 2004 (STAR) Visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi supported yesterday President Arroyo’s decision last month to pull Filipino troops out of Iraq for the freedom of truck driver Angelo de la Cruz who was being held by Iraqi rebels.

"It was the right decision in the interest of the nation," Kharazi told reporters after a meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo.

In a joint statement, the two ministers said they discussed the geopolitical situation in the Middle East, where more than one million Filipinos live and work, and pledged to help in efforts to rebuild Iraq.

"We noted the importance of establishing a permanent and lasting peace in the southern Philippines as the foundation for investments," the joint statement said.

Kharazi said Iran is supplying the Philippines with 67,000 barrels of crude oil to ease the country’s requirements of 300,000 barrels of oil a day.

"So if agreements will be signed between Iran and the Philippines, that can guarantee supply of oil to the Philippines," he said.

"Of course, there was a proposal here that (your) refineries have extra capacity. And we suggested if Iran can bring crude oil here to purify in the refinery for that product, that also has to be looked into, and I’m going to (advise) our oil minister to study if it is feasible or not."

However, he said Iran cannot offer cheaper crude oil to the Philippines, which would be contrary to the price set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). "This is something businesslike," he said. "You know oil prices are decided by the international market, I’m not an expert on this. But what our oil ministry can do as a favor to friendly countries, they usually do it based on international market."

"This has to be negotiated between your oil ministry and our oil ministry if anything can be given to Filipino oil ministry in this aspect," he added.

The statement also said the two countries plan agreements to develop their petrochemical industries, establish a joint business council, and boost bilateral investment.

Iran would be a source of oil for the Philippines, the statement added.

Iran also promised to support the Philippine bid for observer status in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the country’s efforts to craft a peace accord with Muslim separatists in Mindanao.

Iran is a member of the OIC, which the Philippines wants to join as an observer.

The Philippines in turn pledged to back Iran’s admission into the Asian Development Bank and the World Trade Organization.

The two parties also considered measures to expedite documents for the proposed agreements on Mutual Protection of Investments, Philippines and Iran airline agreement, avoidance of double taxation, and customs cooperation.

The Philippines was earlier criticized by both the US and fellow anti-terror ally Australia for pulling out its 51-man contingent.

They said the move was tantamount to giving in to terrorists and encouraged more kidnappings. The US strongly suspects Iran — which has signed the global non-proliferation accord — is secretly building nuclear weapons.

Since the withdrawal was demanded by Iraqi rebels for the release of De la Cruz, the international community claimed that it emboldened them to carry out more kidnappings and attacks against coalition members.

The US also removed the Philippines from the Coalition of the Willing because of the early withdrawal of the humanitarian contingent. — Marvin Sy, Marichu Villanueva, AFP

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