TEHRAN (Reuters) – OPEC members Iran and Ecuador have signed an energy cooperation deal, an Iranian news agency said on Sunday, the latest in growing ties between Tehran and leftist South American governments that have annoyed Washington.
The memorandum of understanding included a plan to build a refinery and a petrochemical unit in Ecuador, in cooperation with both Iran and Venezuela, two of Washington’s most outspoken opponents.
All three countries are members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), source of more than a third of the world’s oil.
Iran, at loggerheads with the United States over its disputed nuclear program, has sought to boost international support including in South America where it has courted Bolivia and Venezuela.
“An agreement was signed between Iran and Ecuador on cooperation in the oil industry and showed the will of the two countries’ presidents to increase cooperation in economy and politics,” Iranian Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari said.
Nozari, who was quoted by the official Iranian news agency IRNA, said the deal was signed late on Saturday.
The deal covered cooperation between Iran, Ecuador and Venezuela on building a refinery and a petrochemical unit in Ecuador. It also covered training of Ecuador’s oil industry employees by Iranian experts and cooperation in maintenance on Ecuadorean oil facilities.
Iran is the world’s fourth largest oil producer, but its own refineries cannot fully cover the country’s gasoline needs. It also has huge gas reserves but has been slow to develop exports.
“This is a political agreement which can help expand ties between the two countries. I hope this agreement is materialized and will not only remain on paper,” Ecuadorean Oil Minister Galo Chiriboga was quoted as saying.
He asked Iran’s oil minister to help form a joint company to help execute the agreement, IRNA reported.
Ecuador’s leftist President Rafael Correa has sought to boost state economic control but has steered away from energy nationalizations pursued by some South American states.
Bolivian President Evo Morales visited Iran at the start of September, touring Iran’s gas industry heartland on the Gulf. In a joint statement, Iran and Bolivia pledged to struggle against “imperialism”, a thinly veiled reference to Washington.
U.S. officials have voiced concern about Iran’s ties with South American states such as Venezuela, particularly as Washington tries to isolate Tehran in the nuclear row.
The United States accuses Iran of seeking to build nuclear bombs, a charge Tehran denies, insisting it wants nuclear power plants so it can export more of its huge oil and gas resources.