DUBAI Iran has begun talks with potential investors in its energy industry, oil minister Bijan Zanganeh told the Financial Times, after Tehran struck a nuclear deal that may help western oil giants move back into the country someday.
Iran is home to some of the world's largest oil and gas reserves, but U.S. energy firms have been barred by Washington from Iran for nearly two decades.
Many of Europe's biggest oil and gas companies had planned multi-billion dollar investments to help develop Iranian reserves. But U.S. pressure drove them away from Iran in the late 2000s for fear of jeopardizing their U.S. interests.
Iran and six world powers reached a deal on Sunday to curb Tehran's nuclear program, in exchange for limited sanctions relief, but strict U.S. and European Union bans on investments in its creaking energy sector remain firmly in place.
But Zanganeh told the FT he had already met with European companies and "indirectly" with U.S. groups to prepare for the day when they might be allowed back in by their governments.
During his previous stint as oil minister Zanganeh succeeded in getting France's Total (TOTF.PA), Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L), Norway's Statoil and Italy's Eni (ENI.MI) to invest in the country which needs western technology to fully exploit its vast reserves and help export more gas.
The FT said these companies were among those he hoped to attract back to work in the country if sanctions were lifted.
A North American shale oil and gas boom over the last four years has enabled many international energy giants to be more choosy about riskier projects elsewhere.
But Iran's share of the world's largest gas field remains a major attraction for European oil and gas majors that were working on the huge field that Iran calls South Pars before U.S. sanctions drove them away.
"Definitely, yes, we will go back, when and if the sanctions are lifted," the chief executive of Total, Christophe de Margerie, told a news conference in Abu Dhabi in early November. "(But) we will not make a single move until this period starts."
A senior Iranian industry official had said on Tuesday the deal should make it easier to export Iran's oil, thanks largely to plans to ease a European shipping insurance ban.
But Zanganeh told the FT in an interview he did not expect any immediate impact on Iran's crude oil exports.
European Union (EU) officials said on Monday some sanctions on Iran might be relaxed in December, but it could be January before the necessary legislative changes are made.
U.S. and EU sanctions that have slashed Tehran's oil exports from 2.5 million barrels per day to around 1 million bpd remain in place and Washington has said it will not allow exports to rise for at least six months.
(Reporting by Daniel Fineren; editing by David Holmes and James Jukwey)