TEHRAN (AFP) -Japanese firm Inpex can still take the majority stake in a project to develop Iran’s largest onshore oil field, the Iranian oil minister said, denying reports Japan could now only take a minority share.
Japan had said Iran told Inpex last week that its stake in the Azadegan oil field was being slashed to 10 percent from the 75 percent agreed when the two-billion-dollar deal was signed in 2004.
“The information over a reduction in the stake of Inpex is not precise and the negotiations between the two sides have not been broken off,” the ISNA agency quoted Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hameneh as saying late on Saturday.
“It is still possible that the Japanese participate with a share of 75 percent in the project,” he added Sunday.
The Kyodo news agency had on Saturday quoted a top Iranian oil official as saying Japan could regain a majority share if “Inpex solves its domestic problems.”
However Vaziri-Hameneh’s comments appeared to go further, suggesting that the talk that Japan would now only take 10 percent was premature and a full agreement was still possible in ongoing negotiations.
The move to leave the door open for the full deal came after National Iranian Oil managing director Gholam Hossein Nozari said flatly last week that the Japanese had “lost their chance” to take the lead role in Azadegan.
Analysts have speculated Japan could be deliberately stalling the talks amid the looming threat of sanctions against Iran and US pressure on Tokyo not to cut a deal with Tehran at a time of tension over the Iranian nuclear programme.
But Iran could also face problems financing on its own the development of Azadegan — which lies in southwestern Iran close to the Iraqi border — if Japan only plays a minor role.
The deal, signed in February 2004, targeted production of 260,000 barrels of oil per day from Azadegan, which has an estimated 26 billion barrels of oil in place. Work had been due to start on the oil field by March 2005.