Iran: Gas Conference Proves Inefficiency of US pressures

A01926183.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- Iran said that a high-profile gas export conference in Tehran sponsored in part by two of Europe’s largest energy companies proved that the US pressures were ineffective in preventing the country from developing its vast oil and gas resources.

The two-day conference is sponsored by European energy giants Total of France and OMV AG of Austria, as well as Crescent Petroleum of the United Arab Emirates.

“Participation of (European) companies and their interest in investing in Iran’s oil and gas sector, despite strong US and Israeli pressures, shows that economic interests supersede political considerations,” a commentary by the state-run radio said.

Russia currently supplies a third of European Union oil imports and more than 40 percent of the natural gas EU countries buy from abroad. But Russia’s recent conflict with Georgia and the country’s decision to cut off gas to Ukraine in January 2006 over a price dispute have fueled Europe’s efforts to diversify its energy sources and supply routes.

“Development of new transportation routes is the key prerequisite to enlarge European import capacities for new supply sources,” said OMV Senior Vice President Michael Peisser, who addressed the conference Saturday.

“In the light of little resources of its own, Europe is surrounded by countries and regions with high natural gas potential, especially Iran, who will play an important role in future global gas production,” he said.

Iran, which sits on the world’s second largest reserves of both oil and gas, is facing US sanctions over its civilian nuclear program.

Iranian officials have dismissed US sanctions as inefficient, saying that they are finding Asian partners instead. Several Chinese and other Asian firms are negotiating or signing up to oil and gas deals.

Following US pressures on companies to stop business with Tehran, many western companies decided to do a balancing act. They tried to maintain their presence in Iran, which is rich in oil and gas, but not getting into big deals that could endanger their interests in the US.

Yet, after oil giants in the West witnessed that their absence in big deals has provided Chinese, Indian and Russian companies with excellent opportunities to signing up to an increasing number of energy projects and earn billions of dollars, many western firms are slowly losing reluctance to invest or expand work in Iran.

Some European countries have also recently voiced interest in investment in Iran’s energy sector after a gas deal was signed between Iran and Switzerland regardless of US sanctions.

The National Iranian Gas Export Company and Switzerland’s Elektrizitaetsgesellschaft Laufenburg signed a 25-year deal in March for the delivery of 5.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year.

The biggest recent deal, worth €100m ($147m, £80m), was signed by Steiner Prematechnik Gastec, the German engineering company, this month to build equipment for three gas conversion plants in Iran. This is at a time when France’s Total, Royal/Dutch Shell and Norway’s Statoil have put on hold their shares in multi-billion dollar contracts.

OMV, central Europe’s leading oil and gas firm, has been exploring oil fields in southwestern Iran since 2001 and has been pursuing a multibillion dollar oil deal with the country. Swiss energy trading company EGL signed a multibillion contract with Iran in March to buy natural gas over the next 25 years.

The US has tried to persuade European energy firms to avoid doing business with Iran, hoping the pressure will cause Tehran to give up its nuclear rights enshrined for all signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Iran has vehemently denied unsubstantiated claims by the US-led West that it is seeking nuclear weapons and says its program is geared toward generating electricity.

Despite the rules enshrined in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) entitling every member state, including Iran, to the right of uranium enrichment, Tehran is now under three rounds of UN Security Council sanctions for turning down West’s illegitimate calls to give up its right of uranium enrichment.

Tehran has dismissed West’s demands as politically tainted and illogical, stressing that sanctions and pressures merely consolidate Iranians’ national resolve to continue the path.

The UN sanctions address individuals and companies involved in nuclear- and arms-related activities without banning daily trade and non-nuclear investment.

But the US has imposed unilateral restrictions in particular on financial transactions and big investments.

OMV spokesman Thomas Huemer said Friday that the company was not breaking any EU or UN laws by attending the conference.

“For us, everything is in line with international regulations. We see no problems in attending this conference,” said Huemer.

Political observers believe that the United States has remained at loggerheads with Iran over the independent and home-grown nature of Tehran’s nuclear technology, which gives the Islamic Republic the potential to turn into a world power and a role model for other third-world countries. Washington has laid much pressure on Iran to make it give up the most sensitive and advanced part of the technology, which is uranium enrichment, a process used for producing nuclear fuel for power plants.

Washington’s push for additional UN penalties contradicts a recent report by 16 US intelligence bodies that endorsed the civilian nature of Iran’s programs. Following the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and similar reports by the IAEA head – one in November and the other one in February – which praised Iran’s truthfulness about key aspects of its past nuclear activities and announced settlement of outstanding issues with Tehran, any effort to impose further sanctions on Iran seems to be completely irrational.

The February report by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, praised Iran’s cooperation in clearing up all of the past questions over its nuclear program, vindicating Iran’s nuclear program and leaving no justification for any new UN sanctions.

Observers believe that Bush’s attempt to rally international pressure against Iran lost steam due to the growing international vigilance.

Many world nations have called the UN Security Council pressure against Iran unjustified, especially in the wake of recent IAEA reports, stressing that Tehran’s case should be normalized and returned to the UN nuclear watchdog due to the Islamic Republic’s increased cooperation with the agency.

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