Oil Minister Confirms Japan Deal Stake Slashed to 10%

A0123446.jpgThe comments by Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri Hameneh came after a swathe of conflicting reports over Inpex’s final stake in Azadegan oil field, which was agreed at 75% when the two-bln-dollar deal was signed in 2004.

The share of Inpex “has been cut from 75% to 10% in the project to develop the Azadegan oil field,” Vaziri Hameneh said.

“The Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO) will be put in charge of the operations,” he added, referring to the Iranian company which was Inpex’s original partner in the project.

Vaziri Hameneh had a day earlier described reports the stake had been slashed to 10% as “not precise” and insisted that talks between the two sides were continuing.

“It is still possible that the Japanese participate with a share of 75% in the project,” he said late Saturday night.

The Kyodo news agency had on Saturday quoted a top Iranian oil official as saying Japan could regain a majority share if “Inpex solves its domestic problems.”

It remains to be seen in the light of Vaziri Hameneh’s latest comments whether Iran is still leaving the door open for Japan to lift its stake in the project at a later date.

Analysts have speculated Japan could have held the talks up amid the looming threat of sanctions against Iran and US pressure on Tokyo not to cut a deal with Tehran at a time of tension over the Iranian nuclear program.

with Japan playing a more minor role than originally intended.

The deal, signed in February 2004, targeted production of 260,000 barrels of oil per day from Azadegan in southwestern Iran close to the Iraqi border, which has an estimated 26 bln barrels in place. Work had been due to start on the oil field by March 2005.

Behind the optimism is the Japanese government’s calculation that Iran would not be able to proceed with the project if it shuts Japan out completely.

Experts believe that developing the oil field–one of the largest in the Middle East with an estimated 26 billion barrels of oil reserves–would be difficult for Iran technologically and financially, but possible.

Iran’s Shana news agency, which is affiliated to Iran’s oil ministry, on Thursday quoted Gholam Hosein Nozari, managing director of National Iranian Oil Co., as saying that the Japanese company will play no part in developing the Azadegan oil field because of the decline in interests.

But letting Inpex retain 10 percent, the Iranian official said, is designed to keep the door open for future trade and cooperation.

Meantime, sources said that Iranian companies enjoy the capabilities required for the development of the field and that the same idea has persuaded Iranian officials to put Inpex aside, after the Japanese stopped short of commencing the project.

Japan’s Inpex Corp. was granted a concession to develop Azadegan, one of the largest oil fields in the world, with expected production of 260,000 barrels a day. But, to comply with the US demands, Inpex failed to start by the deadline, which was pushed back repeatedly, from the originally set Aug. 22 to Sept. 15, and then to last Saturday.

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