Nearly two weeks ago, the New York Times’ Andrew Kramer reported that four Western oil companies — Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total, and BP — were in the final stages of “talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields.” The Times wrote at the time that it was “not clear what role the United States played in awarding the contracts,” but noted that “there are still American advisers to Iraq’s Oil Ministry.”
Last week, after Senate Democrats wrote a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice requesting that she try to block the oil deals, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino claimed the U.S. had no involvement in the deals:
“Iraq is a sovereign country, and it can make decisions based on how it feels that it wants to move forward in its development of its oil resources,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
“And if that means that our companies here in the United States can compete and win business, then that’s for them and the Iraqis to decide,” Perino added. “But I don’t think the federal government of the United States needs to get involved.”
State Department spokesman Tom Casey was more more explicit in his comments, saying that “the United States has had no involvement” in the deals, and thus couldn’t be expected to “block the Iraqi government from contracting in the way it sees fit.”
But, according to a follow-up Times article published today, the State Department actually “played an integral part” in the deals:
A group of American advisers led by a small State Department team played an integral part in drawing up contracts between the Iraqi government and five major Western oil companies to develop some of the largest fields in Iraq, American officials say. […]
In their role as advisers to the Iraqi Oil Ministry, American government lawyers and private-sector consultants provided template contracts and detailed suggestions on drafting the contracts, advisers and a senior State Department official said.
Frederick D. Barton, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Times that “citing issues like sovereignty, when we have our hands right in the middle of it” undermines the U.S.’s credibility.