PETROLIAM Nasional Bhd (Petronas) president and chief executive officer Tan Sri Mohd Hassan Marican has been identified by two leading British newspapers as a possible candidate for appointment by the US administration to help manage Iraq's oil industry in the post-Saddam Hussein era.
According to the Financial Times (FT) and Independent, the Bush administration is looking to appoint an experienced oil executive from a Muslim country for the job.
The two papers named Hassan as one of two possible candidates; the other being Algeria's Oil Minister Chakib Khelil.
Analysts said that if the British news reports were true – and they seem to be – it would reflect the importance of Malaysia, in the eyes of Washington, as a moderate and progressive Islamic country that had successfully managed its oil resources for national economic and social development.
It is also seen as a high honour for Hassan to be considered for the position, and underlines his professionalism and expertise in steering Petronas into being one of the most respected government-owned oil companies in the world.
Hassan joined Petronas in 1989 as senior vice-president of finance, and was appointed president and CEO in February 1995.
Under his stewardship, Petronas has established itself as one of the developing world's most aggressive foreign investors, with operations in 32 countries.
Other possible candidates mentioned for the Iraqi job include Rodney Chase, a BP executive who is due to retire this month, and Phillip Carroll, a US citizen who was chief executive of Shell's American business until 1998.
Algeria's Chakib is said to have experience working with Shell and Phillips Petroleum in the United States, and has worked with the World Bank for almost two decades, most recently as petroleum adviser.
Both the FT and Independent said American policymakers were struggling to convince the Iraqi people and the Arab world that the United States did not go to war to wrest control of Iraq's oil from its people.
“To overcome that hurdle, senior Bush administration officials are discussing the appointment of a Muslim – who would come from outside the Gulf region, but be a respected figure in the oil world – to help guide any new Iraqi oil minister,'' the FT said.
The Independent quoted Valerie Marcel of the Royal Institute of International Affairs as saying: “There are conflicting views in the US administration, with those around Donald Rumsfeld (the US Defence Secretary) wanting a Phillip Carroll-type figure. Those in the State Department are pushing for Arabs, or at least Muslims.”
According to the FT report, the running of Iraq's oil company is widely expected to be left to an Iraqi executive.
“US oil companies have quietly lobbied for a transparent system to be put in place to facilitate oil deals by Western companies in any post-Saddam Hussein regime,'' the newspaper said.
Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia.
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