Iran eyes Russia, China if Japan stalls on oil deal

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TEHRAN (Kyodo) Iran has warned Japan of a possible move to seek joint development of its giant Azadegan oil field with Russia or China if it cannot reach an agreement with Japan by Sept. 15, a local news agency reported.

Mehdi Bazaargan, managing director of Iranian developer Petroleum Engineering & Development Co., expressed concern over sluggishness on the part of the Japanese government-linked Inpex Corp., which holds the concessions for the development project.

He was quoted by the news agency run by Iran’s Oil Ministry as saying his company may explore developing the field with other countries, including China and Russia.

The Iranian developer, an affiliate of National Iranian Oil Co., is in charge of negotiating with Japanese companies over the oil development project.

Inpex says the project has been delayed because work to clear land mines from the oil field has yet to be completed. Bazaargan was quoted as saying it is “clearly a pretext,” adding the work has almost been completed.

Some analysts in Iran speculate that Japan is deliberately delaying the project in the face of pressure from the United States, which opposes Iran’s nuclear program.

Bazaargan previously said the deadline for starting the project according to the contract is Sept. 22. It is unclear why he mentioned Sept. 15 as the deadline.

According to the Iranian Students News Agency, Iranian Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh said Saturday that consultations with Japan on the project have been proceeding as scheduled.

Three firms — Inpex, National Iranian Oil and its subsidiary — signed a contract on the project in February 2004.

The oil field in southwestern Iran is one of the world’s largest, estimated to hold 26 billion barrels worth of crude oil reserves.

New China site hit

Japan has protested China’s opening of a new gas exploration site near disputed waters in the East China Sea, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said Monday.

Both Japan and China claim rights to undersea resources in the waters. Tokyo has proposed joint exploration, but China has refused and gone ahead with its own drilling.

Abe said the government lodged a protest, responding to reports that two Chinese vessels were spotted near a new, fourth gas exploration site.

Abe also accused China of taking advantage of the stalemate between the two countries to strengthen its hand by making its exploration of the area “an established fact.”

“As we have done in the past, we protested this time as well,” said Abe, who is the front-runner to replace Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when he steps down next month.

The undersea gas fields are one of numerous territorial disputes between Japan and China in the East China Sea, ranging from where to demarcate each country’s exclusive economic zone to sovereignty over a small cluster of uninhabited islets.

Both nations are eager to develop new sources of energy for their economies. They have held talks to try to settle the dispute, but without progress.