In back-to-back meetings with top Iraqi officials while in Baghdad yesterday, Biden addressed issues such as job creation and regulations that he told them would lead to greater interest from companies that want to do business in the oil-rich nation, according to an administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
In a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Biden said a business and investment conference scheduled for next month in Washington will “bring together American and Iraqi businesses for additional economic activity in Iraq.”
The vice president advised the Iraqis to resist the temptation to exact hefty concessions from international energy companies as a price of doing business, the official said. Iraq has the world’s third-largest crude reserves and it has been struggling to raise oil output.
Biden said that a single oil field could bring in $50 billion to $60 billion in investments, generate $600 million in revenues and create up to 200,000 jobs, according to the official. He argued that that for the long-term, Iraq would be better off seeking more modest terms to expand the pool of international investment, the official said.
Iraqi lawmakers have yet to approve a law governing contracts with international companies and exports from the Kurdish region in northern Iraq. A second round of oil field bidding is scheduled for the second half of December.
Biden also singled out the Overseas Private Investment Corporation in private talks with Iraqis, telling them the independent federal agency would be more able to offer loans and guarantees to businesses were Iraq to refine its investment laws, the administration official said.
Biden arrived in Baghdad Tuesday afternoon on his third visit to Iraq this year. He conferred with more than a half- dozen top Iraqi officials, including Maliki. The two had dinner together last night.
Biden said after meeting with Maliki that Iraq is “on the road to a better future” even as “much hard work remains.” “We are confident that the terrorists will fail,” Biden said. “And we remain committed to cooperating with the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people as they work together to create a peaceful and prosperous Iraq.”
Underscoring the still unsettled security situation, the fortified international zone where government buildings and the U.S. embassy are located came under attack from rocket fire for the second night in a row, the New York Times reported on its Web site.
Several people at a security company were wounded by one rocket that landed at the edge of the U.S. embassy compound and one person was killed by another projectile that hit near a hotel, the Times reported.
Biden’s meeting with Maliki was delayed by more than half an hour yesterday so that bomb-sniffing dogs could ensure the prime minister’s office and surrounding area were secure.
While sectarian violence is far below the levels reached at the height of the conflict three years ago, attacks have persisted on security forces, the majority Shiites and targets in the ethnically divided Kurdish-dominated northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk.
In addition to Maliki, a Shiite, Biden also met yesterday with Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and deputy prime minister Rafi al-Issawi, both Sunnis.
The vice president today is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister-designate Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
U.S. officials, led by Biden, are increasingly focusing on helping the Iraqis prepare for the departure of U.S. military personnel. According to the U.S. withdrawal schedule, all American forces will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. There are about 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
With Iraq scheduled to hold elections in January, U.S. officials are concerned about an increase in violence and whether the balloting can pave the way for reconciliation among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
Biden told reporters today that even with the challenges Iraqis face he is “confident they will successfully pull off this election.”
Iraq’s leaders understand “that the election coming off on Jan. 16 is critical to Iraq’s future,” he said at Al Faw Palace in Baghdad, one of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s retreats. “How they get from here to there remains to be seen.”
The resolution to problems such as internal boundary disputes may be delayed until after the election, he said. Contentious issues “are always difficult to resolve in the midst of an election cycle,” Biden said.