Iran oil firm head reluctant to extend Azadegan deadline

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TEHRAN (Kyodo) The chief of Iran’s national oil corporation has expressed reluctance to extend the deadline for negotiations with Japan’s Inpex Corp. on the development of the Azadegan oil field, an Iranian news agency reported Monday.

Gholam-Hossein Nowzari, managing director of National Iranian Oil Co., said in an interview with Fars News Agency that he does not believe the national corporation can set a fresh deadline. A Sept. 15 deadline was extended to Sept. 30.

Inpex, linked to the Japanese government, is reportedly asking for another month to the end of October.

Nowzari expressed hope the two sides can reach an agreement on the project during the current session of negotiations, the report said.

Inpex holds a 75 percent concession in the Azadegan field, based on a contract signed with the National Iranian Oil in February 2004.

The company has yet to start development work, however, citing a delay in Iranian operations to remove land mines left over from the Iran-Iraq War. Iran’s uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities for possible development of nuclear weapons appear also to be contributing to the delay in development work.

The Iranian firm and Inpex held negotiations Monday but failed to narrow gaps over the amount of additional investment to be made on the project, Japanese sources said.

The talks were expected to continue Tuesday and beyond, the sources said.

In a related development, a news agency run by the Iranian Oil Ministry on Monday quoted sources close to the negotiations as saying Inpex would end up securing the right to develop only a small segment of the oil field if it fails to reach an agreement during the current round of talks.

The Japanese side believes that a series of hawkish comments by Iranian officials are part of a strategy to turn the negotiations to their advantage, government sources said.

But Tokyo is also aware of the possibility that Iran may unilaterally declare that it will develop the oil field on its own, the sources said.

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

Earlier this year, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a halt to Tehran’s uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities out of concern that Iran may use resultant fissionable substances in nuclear weapons.

In August, Iran warned Japan it may seek development of the oil field with Russia or China if Inpex failed to begin work by mid-September.