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MOSCOW, May 25 (RIA Novosti) - Russian oil giant LUKOIL is planning to begin joint exploration of the West Qurna-2 oil deposit in Iraq with U.S. company ConocoPhillips, LUKOIL President Vagit Alekperov announced Tuesday, Vremya Novostei, a daily, reported.

This deposit has estimated recoverable resources (according to Cambridge Energy Research Associates) at 11.3 billion barrels and is in third place in Iraq.

"All conditions have currently been met in Iraq that are needed to start project implementation," Alekperov said. "In the near future, LUKOIL Overseas head Andrei Kuzyaev will fly to Baghdad and at the end of the year I might go there as well."

Alekperov is certain the Iraqi side sees the project's validity and assumes that Baghdad will not demand the revision of existing agreements. He stressed that LUKOIL never closed its office in Baghdad.

Alekperov's confidence could be based on ConocoPhillips' acquisition of a stake in LUKOIL last September, which it plans to increase to 20%. ConocoPhillips joined the West Qurna-2 project after acquiring 17.5% of the stake in the project from LUKOIL, which still has a controlling bloc of shares.

Alekperov told journalists that the American company would participate in the exploration of the Iraqi deposit.

LUKOIL also plans to join efforts with ConocoPhillips on the U.S. market. The Russian company intends to conduct exploration of Venezuelan oil deposits and produce oil that will be supplied later to U.S. refineries that belong to ConocoPhillips. The resulting oil derivatives will be sold at U.S.-based gas stations that belong to LUKOIL, which owns a network of more than 2,000 gas stations in the United States.

LUKOIL will also reduce oil supplies in the East. According to Alekperov, if the company had planned to supply three million tons of oil to China this year, it now is assuming the supply volume will not exceed two million tons.

Alekperov said it is more lucrative today to sell oil and to use refineries in Russia.

Lukoil produced 81.5 million tons of oil and 5.5 billion cubic meters of gas in 2003. According to Energy Intelligence Group, Lukoil was in 20th place among the biggest oil and gas companies of the world as of 2003.

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