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Financial Times: Iran acts to boost foreign oil investment

By Gareth Smyth in Tehran
Published: August 21 2007 03:00 | Last updated: August 21 2007 03:00

Iran appointed a new deputy oil minister for international affairs yesterday as part of a government reshuffle. Hossein Noghrehkar-Shirazi, who will take over responsibility for liaison with foreign companies, was appointed by the acting oil minister, Gholam-Hossein Nozari.

The oil ministry said Mr Noghrehkar-Shirazi had previously been a diplomat in Austria and had studied in the US.

Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the president, has tried, with limited success, to reshape Iran’s state-owned oil industry since he was elected two years ago on a slogan of redistributing the country’s oil wealth more widely.

The ministry has historically been balanced between factions but the domestic political temperature is rising in the run-up to parliamentary elections in March.

Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh, who “resigned” last week as oil minister, subsequently criticised the government for its decision to keep petrol prices at one of the world’s lowest levels. The government in June introduced a monthly petrol ration of 100 litres per motorist in an effort to curb imports whose cost reached about $5bn (€3.7bn, £2.5bn) last year.

The introduction of rationing initially lead to rioting but saw consumption drop.

“If fuel consumption continues as currently, we will be faced with an energy crisis in the future – consumption cannot be controlled with low prices,” Mr Vaziri-Hamaneh told a ceremony marking his departure from the ministry.

Mr Nozari, the acting minister whose appointment requires parliamentary approval, has identified the boosting of Iran’s crude production as an immediate priority. Iran has apparently been struggling to meet its Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries quota.

The government’s critics have poured scorn on what they say are inflated claims over foreign investment in the sector.

Mohammad Rowhani, the former energy director of the State Management and Planning Organisation, said in June that talk of $38bnduring the government’s term of office was “pure rhetoric”, with a large part of the figure beingmemoranda of understanding still to be realised.

Given the strong possibility of tougher United Nations sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme, European companies – including OMV, of Austria, Spain’s Repsol and Royal Dutch Shell – are hesitating over whether to go ahead with plans for involvement in its energy sector. Nonetheless, high oil prices increased Iran’s revenue by 13.6 per cent to $54bn in the Iranian year ending March 20, and income is set to be even higher this year. The International Monetary Fund has forecast 5 per cent growth, largely driven by oil revenue, for Iran this year.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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