The Guardian (UK): BP chief's remarks enrage Iran: Oil minister lashes out as Lord Browne says country is not fit for investment: “…while US firms such as ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco have steered clear, other European majors such as Shell and Total have been pushing ahead with projects.” (ShellNews.net) 25 Jan 05
Tuesday January 25, 2005
BP was engulfed last night in a political storm with Iran accusing Britain's largest company of "unfriendly" comments that, it said, would not be forgotten.
Bijan Zanganeh, the Iranian oil minister, said BP was trying to curry favour with the Americans after its chief executive Lord Browne stated that, politically, Iran was not a candidate for investment.
"We do not consider this a friendly approach and we will not forget it. We think it is a move taken by BP for the Americans," said Mr Zanganeh whose country holds a 10th of the world's oil reserves.
Iran is especially sensitive after an aggressive foreign policy was outlined in George Bush's inauguration speech last week and his deputy, Dick Cheney, described Iraq's neighbour as top of the world's "trouble spots".
Accused by Washington of developing nuclear arms and backing terrorism there has been increasing speculation that Mr Bush might consider military intervention there.
Washington already has sanctions in place against Iran that allow it to punish those companies that do business there.
But while US firms such as ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco have steered clear, other European majors such as Shell and Total have been pushing ahead with projects.
Before the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, BP had been looking hard at investing in Iran. Lord Browne told the Sunday Times that this was no longer possible.
"Right now it is impractical for BP because 40% of BP is in the US and we are the largest producer of oil and gas in the US," he explained. "Politically Iran is not a flyer. One day I hope it is," he went on. And the BP boss explained the oil company's strategy was to become the partner of choice for governments around the world.
Iran does not look like it will be one of them, but Fadel Gheit, oil analyst with Oppenheimer & Co in New York, said he was not surprised by Lord Browne's remarks.
"John Browne operates within the confines of a bigger political doctrine and strategy. He is not going to ruffle the feathers of people in [the US] government because they could derail his domestic business," he explained.
Mr Gheit believed it was possible that Mr Bush, having failed with sanctions against Iran, might opt for a more daring military strategy using Iraq as a launchpad - although the oil analyst believed this would be disastrous.
Political uncertainty in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East has already helped keep global crude prices at historically high levels.
With snow falling in America, demand there kept US crude prices at about $49 a barrel yesterday.
The BP row, which was dismissed last night by a company spokesman as "old news" and a misunderstanding, comes just a week before it is likely to face an argument with British petrol consumers.
Motorists could claim that BP is profiteering when it announces record annual profits of £13.5bn, up 47% on 12 months earlier although a new study released yesterday claimed the UK had the cheapest fuel in Europe - before tax.
Lord Browne is generally admired for his political astuteness and his ability to keep on good relations with most political leaders. Recently, he defended the right of countries to develop their own natural resources without the help of western firms.