UPDATE 2-CEO says Rio Tinto not shopping assets but would consider offers
(Adds details on Simandou project)
WASHINGTON May 16 (Reuters) - Rio Tinto is not actively seeking to divest assets this year but would consider any attractive offers, Chief Executive Sam Walsh said on Friday.
Rio, the world's third-largest miner, has been divesting assets that it no longer considers core. Speculation has centered on coal operations in Mozambique, South Africa and Australia, but Walsh said there were no firm plans.
"If somebody comes along with a large checkbook and makes an attractive offer, of course we'll consider that, no matter what the commodity is, but we are not out in the market seeking for people to buy our assets," he told reporters.
"We have no need to divest any assets during 2014; we are focusing on the final work to get our balance sheet back in strength."
Rio said earlier this week it had boosted iron ore output at its Australian operations to 290 million tonnes a year, earlier than expected. Meanwhile, rivals such as BHP Billiton may face disruptions from a threatened tugboat strike at Australia's main iron ore port, Port Hedland.
Asked if Rio Tinto had spot cargo to fill the breach, Walsh said the company was already shipping to capacity.
"We are basically shipping flat-out, but we don't operate our iron ore operations out of Port Hedland," he said.
Rio was also optimistic of finalizing an investment agreement with Guinea for the Simandou iron ore deposit by the end of the month, Walsh said on the sidelines of an event on infrastructure in developing nations at the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
Simandou, one of the largest untapped deposits of iron ore, could turn the West African country into a major exporter of iron ore.
Walsh said he expected $18 billion to be plowed into the project during the construction phase, spanning four to five years, with production starting towards the end of the decade.
"We are very hopeful that by the end of this month we will have signed the investment framework, which then enables us to finalize the finance, finalize the consortium and take the project forward," he said.
Rio is developing the southern part of Simandou together with the Guinea government, China's Aluminum Corp of China Ltd (Chalco) and the IFC, the private lending arm of the World Bank. (Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Tom Brown and Steve Orlofsky)