Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (R) meets with Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Baghdad January 7, 2010. [Photo/Agencies]
BAGHDAD: Iran and Iraq have begun talks to try to resolve a dispute over an inactive oil well in a sensitive area along the nearly 1,500-km border between the two countries, their foreign ministers said on Thursday.
Iraq's Hoshiyar Zebari met Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki in a move to cool tensions between the neighbours after a small contingent of Iranian troops moved into an oilfield inside Iraqi territory last month and Iraq vowed it would not give up an inch of its land.
Their comments at a news conference after the meeting made clear the essence of the dispute had not been resolved. Mottaki said Iranian troops had been told to withdraw "to their original locations," but Zebari indicated they had not moved far enough.
"The Iranian troops brought down the Iranian flag and withdrew (only) to a certain distance," Zebari said.
Zebari said the two sides had agreed to "normalise border conditions and put back things as they were."
"We had a problem (over borders), and still the problem is pending and we want to resolve it," Zebari said, noting Iraq could appeal to the United Nations if Iranian soldiers did not withdraw.
The seizure of the well, which Iraq claims as part of its Fakka oilfield in southeastern Maysan province, triggered protests from Baghdad and jitters on world oil markets. A border dispute led to the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
Mottaki said the two countries were carrying out technical discussions on the dispute. The two sides said the talks would continue in the coming weeks.
"Instructions and orders were issued to the Iranian forces to withdraw to their original locations," Mottaki said through an interpreter.
The Iraqi military said in December that about a dozen Iranian soldiers had moved about 100 metres inside Iraqi territory and raised the Iranian flag over the disputed well.
Iraqi officials later said the Iranians had moved away from the well but were still on Iraqi soil.
The well was drilled in 1979 and provided about 3,000 barrels a day at the time, but has been inactive since 1980 due to the war.
Fakka is part of the Maysan oilfield complex, which has reserves of about 2.5 billion barrels. Iraq tried unsuccessfully to auction it off to foreign oil companies last year.
The threat of border incursions or feuds could cause jitters among foreign oil firms as Iraq tries to ramp up production to take its place among top world producers after years of war.
Iraq has the world's third-largest oil reserves but is only the 11th-largest producer.