Iran says its oil market open to US, calls for end
TEHRAN, March 7 (AFP) - Iran stepped up the pressure to end the US
embargo with the surprise announcement Sunday that US oil companies face
"no obstacle" to doing business in the Iranian oil industry.
"There is no obstacle to US oil companies participating in oil
development projects in Iran," Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi said,
clearly referring to Washington's unilateral trade embargo which prohibits
US companies from doing business here.
He underscored the point by stressing that the embargo served only
to hamper US business interests.
"The Americans must come to terms with reality and see that there
is no solution other than changing their sanctions policy," Kharazi
said at a press conference.
"This policy serves only to hurt American companies."
Kharazi's surprise announcement comes just days after a top US oil
executive told the US Congress that the embargo meant US firms could not
compete on equal terms with companies from Europe and elsewhere.
"The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) is proving to be a counterproductive
foreign policy tool for defending American interests in the region,"
Michael Stinson, senior vice president of oil giant Conoco, told the Senate
International Relations Committee.
"I believe the Congress should recognize that ILSA has created
more problems than it solved and repeal the sanctions on Iran," he
"I find it almost tragic that the French are building relations
in Iran in ways we cannot," he said.
French oil firm Elf Aquitaine and Italy's ENI signed a 540 million
dollar deal earlier this month to develop Iran's Doroud oil field in a
direct challenge to the ILSA, known as the D'Amato law after its chief
congressional sponsor, then Senator Alfonse D'Amato.
Kharazi said those firms -- along with France's Total, which signed
a two billion dollar deal with Iran in 1997 -- "have played a key
role in breaking the D'Amato law."
Washington passed the law in 1996, one year after imposing a unilateral
economic embargo against Tehran.
The bill calls for harsh sanctions against any foreign firm investing
more than 20 million dollars in the oil sectors of Iran or Libya, states
Washington accuses of supporting international terrorism.
The US State Department said last week it was looking at slapping sanctions
on Elf and ENI over the most recent deal.
"We will assess the implications," said State Department
spokesman James Foley. "We'll take appropriate action."
"The US remains strongly opposed to investment in Iran's petroleum
sector," he said. "We have repeatedly urged the governments of
France and Italy at the most senior levels to discourage this investment."
French energy group Total, in partnership with Russia's Gazprom and
Petronas of Malaysia, was the first to flout the law with its 1997 agreement
to develop Iran's giant South Pars field in the Persian Gulf.
In the face of intense international pressure, Washington finally granted
the Total project an exemption because it concluded that the sanctions
would not prevent the project from going forward.
In exchange, Washington won pledges from European governments that
they would step up efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring weapons of mass
destruction, according to US officials.
But some European officials have interpreted that move as a de facto
scaling back of the D'Amato law and concluded that Washington lacked the
will or the means to enforce it.
The second largest oil producer in OPEC behind Saudi Arabia, Iran depends
on oil for more than 80 percent of its hard currency revenues and has been
hard hit by the worldwide slump in crude prices.
Last month it announced that a deal worth 200 million dollars had been
agreed in principle with the Canadian firm Bow Valley and Britain's Premier
Oil to develop the offshore Balal site.
The State Department said it had not received official word the deal
had been agreed but vowed to review the matter thoroughly.