When asked about reports that Iraq was in discussions with Riyadh to re-open the line, a Saudi Aramco official said that the Iraqis "don't know what they are talking about. The pipeline is not in a stage to be utilised."

  

"The pipeline is not in a usable form because of its long-term and sudden closure," he said on Monday on the sidelines of the two-day Middle East Conference on Oil and Gas Pipelines in the Omani capital Muscat on Monday.

 

Pipeline shut

  

The IPSA-1 pipeline, which was completed in 1989, was shut the following year after the start of the Gulf War and has remained closed since then.

  

"There is no continuity in the line," the official said, without giving further details.

  

Other delegates at the conference suggested that the pipeline would naturally deteriorate after being closed for such a long time. "There would be a lot of internal corrosion in the pipeline," Sanjiv Dheer, Vice President of Essar Constructions Limited said.

  

"It is not an Iraqi pipeline anymore"

Un-named Saudi Aramco official

"There would be some leakage of air and air always creates corrosion,"  he said.

  

Iraq has been seeking alternative export routes for its crude, following a series of attacks on its northern pipeline to Turkey which have deprived the war-torn country of vital oil revenues.

  

Without other outlets, Iraq will be unable to boost exports much beyond the capacity of the terminal at the southern port of Mina al-Bakr. Yet, even if the IPSA-1 pipeline were operational, the Saudi delegate suggested that the kingdom would not entertain the idea of exporting Iraqi crude through it.

  

"It is not an Iraqi pipeline anymore," he said. Saudi Arabia expropriated the pipeline in June 2001, claiming that continued threats and aggression from Iraq had destroyed the rationale for maintaining the pipeline on its behalf.

  

A year earlier, Iraq had sent a letter to the United Nations demanding that Saudi Arabia should be held liable for any damage done to the $2.2 billion pipeline.