Indian oil ministry and industry officials were tightlipped yesterday on details of last week's wheat-for-oil barter deal that is due go to the United Nations sanctions committee for approval.

"It is an in-principle agreement to barter (Indian) wheat, rice and pulses in exchange for crude oil (from Iraq). Details will be finalised after the UN approves it," a government official said. "No point working out the numbers if UN approval is not granted," he said when asked about the volume and price.

Market sources are speculating that Baghdad might have lined up a big oil contract in the barter deal. After the pact was signed, an Indian foreign ministry spokesman had said details of the quantity and price were unavailable.

Iraq stopped loading crude for exports from Thursday night after buyers refused to pay a 50-cent per barrel surcharge set by Iraq outside UN terms. An Indian Oil Corp official said loading operations were still to begin on two IOC tankers that reached Iraq last week.

"We are not worried. We are very hopeful of getting crude from Iraq under the oil-for-food programme," the IOC official, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters.

"They (Iraq) have not said they will not supply. We are not talking of (paying) any surcharge... We can't do anything outside the UN programme." India has a contract with Iraq for 1.5 million tonnes of crude oil in 2000, of which 1.2 million has been supplied.