OPEC's second biggest exporter, Iran, is pressing Western companies to defy Washington and invest in its new oil and gas projects, desite opposition from Washington.
Imminent contract signings with major companies such as a Japanese consortium with Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell group and Italy's ENI are reported to be imminent.
'Nothing has been signed yet. We are still in the negotiation stage. We have to wait for a few days to know more," Mohsen Aghajani, spokesman for the National Iranian Oil Company (INOC) told AFP. Japan, a leading importer of Iranian crude but with no involvement yet in developing the oil industry, has been invited to enjoy "preferential rights" to a huge exploration area in Azadenah in the south-west of Azadegan in the south-west of the country.
Resserves there are understood to measure between 26 and 40 billion barrels, with a supply expectation of some 400,000 barrels per day.
On Sunday, June 24, the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun said Japan National Oil and Royal Dutch Shell would invest eight billion dollars in the project.
The Wall Street Journal Europe said Thursday that ENI was ready to sign a one billion dollar contract with Iran for the Darkhovin field in the south-west of the country, although the contract had yet to be signed.
These moves came as Iranian-US relations, strained for 21 years, took a new with Washington formally accusing Tehran of responsibility for the Dahran bomb attack on US servicemen in Saudi Arabia in 1996.
During his election campaign, President Mohammad Khatami, who was comfortably re-elected, rejected seeking better ties with the United States before a lifting of the US embargo declared in 1995 which hits any foreign company working in the energy sector with Iran.
Despite these measures US firms such as Chevron and Exxon have resumed dialogue recently with Iran, without concrete results to date. The Haliburton Corporation supplying oil equipment and headed up till recently by the current US Vice President Dick Cheney, is also in talks with Iran.
Moves to renew sanctions by the US House of Representatives for five years, instead of two as sought by the administration will deprive US companies of the Iranian market, foreign ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi said June 22.
"The Americans are ceding to the Europeans every chance of deals with Iran," says Tehran deputy Ahmad Bourghani.
But an oil expert commented: "US companies are not coming in because in their view the funding conditions and the profitability are unsuitable. That has nothing to do with politics."
The French Total oil group -- now part of the TotalFinaElf consortium -- was the first to defy the US embargo in 1995 by signing a buy-back contract, where the investor is promised a return out of future revenue, to develop the Sirri oil field.
The coming of Royal Dutch Shell late 1999 marked the return of the British, who dominated the oil industry in the region until its nationalization in 1951. — (AFP)
© Agence France Presse
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)