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Energy groups agree to end Iran operations

The US said it had reached agreement with four oil companies that they exit Iran rather than face sanctions, while Japan said a state-owned oil group would end its involvement in a huge Iranian oilfield.

Energy groups agree to end Iran operations

James Steinberg, deputy secretary of state, said Statoil, Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, and Total had agreed with the US to end their investments in Iran, following the entry into force of new US unilateral sanctions legislation.

“We have received commitments from four international energy firms to terminate their investments and avoid any new activity in Iran’s energy sector, delivering a significant setback to Iran,” Mr Steinberg said on Thursday.

The Obama administration says sanctions in the dispute over Tehran's nuclear programme are beginning to bite, but many members of Congress want it to enforce the new law more forcefully.

All four companies had already signalled they were pulling out of Iran as sanctions pressure built up on Capitol Hill. While the groups could have faced sanctions for past investments, Mr Steinberg said the US would not now “regard them as companies of concern for their past Iran-related activities”.

In Japan, Inpex, which is 30 per cent owned by the state, said it had not made a final decision over relinquishing its stake in Iran’s Azadegan oilfield. But Akihiro Ohata, Japan’s trade and industry minister, said the company would pull out, calling the move “a business decision”.

The state department added on Thursday that several other companies had told it they were cutting back business with Iran. It said India’s Reliance, Turkey’s Tupras, Kuwait’s Independent Petroleum Group and Russia’s Lukoil were among companies halting sales of refined petroleum to Tehran in accordance with the new legislation. It added that BP and Shell had both told the US they were no longer supplying jet fuel to Iran Air.

While unilateral sanctions against energy investments in Iran have been on the US statute book since the mid 1990s, for many years the measures were not enforced, partly to avoid trade disputes with US partners. But most European countries now back the US sanctions drive, while this year Congress expanded the sanctions to include refined petroleum sales to Iran.

Mr Steinberg warned the US would be mounting investigations into other energy companies to see if they violated the sanctions.

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