By Ahmed Rasheed
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Turkey has told Iraq it will reject any extension of oil and gas pipelines from Kurdistan without the approval of the Baghdad government, Iraq's oil minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi was quoted as saying by the state media network on Monday.
Iraq's Arab-led central government and the Kurdistan regional government (KRG), run by ethnic Kurds, are in a long-running dispute over how to exploit the country's crude reserves and divide the revenues.
Baghdad says it alone has the authority to control export of the world's fourth largest oil reserves, while the Kurds say their right to do so is enshrined in Iraq's federal constitution, drawn up following the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
"Turkey has officially informed Iraq it rejects extending oil and gas export pipelines from the Kurdistan region to pass through Turkey without approval from federal government," the network quoted the minister as saying.
The Turkish energy ministry declined to comment on the statement.
Kurdistan's Minister for Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami said earlier this month the autonomous region was pressing ahead with plans to build its own oil export pipeline to Turkey, despite objections from the United States, which fears the project could lead to the break-up of Iraq.
Resource-hungry Turkey has heavily courted Iraqi Kurds, straining ties with the Iraqi central government.
Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki's media advisor Ali al-Moussawi said Turkey's rejection of the pipeline would help enhance bilateral relations between Ankara and Baghdad, which have deteriorated over the past year.
"The government welcomes Turkey's move, which will significantly help to stabilize the region and also strengthen relations between central government and Kurdish region,"" Ali al-Moussawi added.
Ankara has been locked in a war of words with Maliki, a Shi'ite, since December 2011, when he ordered the arrest of his Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who took refuge in Kurdistan before fleeing to Turkey.
GAS LICENSE DELAY
Iraqi Kurdistan halted oil exports through the Baghdad-controlled Iraq-Turkey pipeline in December in a dispute over payments to oil companies operating in the autonomous region.
In early January, Kurdistan began exporting crude oil directly to world markets through Turkey, further angering Baghdad, which threatened action against the region and foreign oil companies working there to stop "illegal" crude exports.
A broad energy partnership between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan ranging from exploration to export has been in the works since last year.
Amid uncertainty over the detail and timing of the deal, Turkey's energy watchdog EPDK on Friday again delayed a decision on whether to award a license for Turkish firm Siyah Kalem to import gas from Kurdistan.
Siyah Kalem had sought extra time from Turkey's Energy Market Regulatory Authority (EPDK) for its application due to difficulties in reaching agreement with the northern Iraqi administration. It was given until the end of 2013.
Turkish officials initially indicated that they thought a purchase agreement signed with the KRG was legally sufficient to allow imports into Turkey. But officials later confirmed any such agreement would need to be approved by Baghdad.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara; Editing by William Hardy)
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