By an OGJ correspondent
NICOSIA, Apr. 14 -- Jordan has acknowledged receiving its first shipment of crude oil from Saudi Arabia to replace supplies from Iraq, but has staunchly denied that it is negotiating with Israel to reopen the oil pipeline from Iraq's northern oil fields to the Israeli port of Haifa.
"The Jordanian government has not contacted (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon's office or any Israeli government official regarding this issue," Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said, while Jordan's Ministry of Energy said the reports "have no foundation or truth whatsoever."
The denials followed reports that Israeli National Infrastructure Minister Joseph Paritzky would meet Jordanian officials to talk about restarting the Haifa pipeline.
"We are looking into the possibility of renewing the pipeline between Mosul and Haifa, which would bring enormous benefits to the region," Paritzky said last week. "But I don't underestimate the difficulties, and it's simply too early to say at this stage when this might happen."
Despite the Jordanian denial, a spokesman at the Israeli Infrastructure Ministry said unofficial talks had begun, adding that it would be "technically easy" to reopen the pipeline, with the Jordan-Israel stretch needing the most work.
The pipeline transported Iraqi oil from Mosul to the Palestinian port of Haifa during the British mandate period, which ended in 1948. Supplies to Haifa stopped in 1948 with the foundation of Israel, and the pipeline was redirected to the Syrian port of Banias.
Meanwhile, Jordan's Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Mohammad Batayneh announced Saturday that a Saudi tanker loaded with 100,000 tonnes of oil docked at Aqaba in the Gulf of Eilat.
The shipment came after Iraqi oil supplies to Jordan were suspended hours after US and Britain launched the war against Iraq, the sole supplier of oil to Jordan for more than a decade.
In March, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states said they would provide Jordan with crude and fuel oil, replacing supplies from Iraq that stopped on Mar. 21, the first day of the US-led war against Baghdad (OGJ Online, Mar. 28, 2003).
"The kingdom will be among Arab countries that will compensate Jordan with its oil needs," Saudi Arabia's Prince Saud Al Faisal said, adding: "it will not be at preferential prices."
Jordan relied on Iraq for its average consumption of 90,000 b/d of crude and fuel oil, half of which was being imported at preferential prices and the remainder as a gift from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Since the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq, Jordan said it has been drawing on 3.5 million gal reserves stored in two tankers moored at Aqaba, along with an additional 30-day stockpile at the Zarqa refinery, 40 km east of Amman.
Batayneh said Jordan will continue receiving gulf oil regularly, stressing that the kingdom has "a sufficient" reserve at present to cover its needs. Energy and shipping sources told The Jordan Times that Aqaba is expected to receive more Saudi oil tankers in "the coming few days."