The Canadian Press

Washington:  In a surprise move, the company behind the controversy-plagued Keystone XL pipeline has asked the U.S. government to temporarily suspend its application.

That request from TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) adds a new wrinkle to one of the biggest Canada-U.S. political irritants of recent years, involving a pipeline from Alberta to Texas.

The request comes in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

It asks the American administration to delay its decision on a border-crossing permit, pending an ongoing dispute in Nebraska over the route.

If heeded, that request could potentially have two major implications: First, it could spare the company a potential rejection from U.S. President Barack Obama.

It could also punt the issue beyond the 2016 U.S. election, making it a campaign issue and placing the file in the hands of a future administration.

The request is a stunning turn of events for the project that would carry nearly one-quarter of all Canadian oil exports. Until recently, the company and the Conservative government had been pleading for approval soon.