EU officials to visit Iran in February to develop energy ties

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission will undertake a first “technical assessment mission” in February to explore energy ties with Iran following the lifting of international sanctions, European Climate and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said on Sunday.

Late on Saturday, the European Union, the United Nations and the United States lifted sanctions on Iran, opening the door to closer EU-Iran energy cooperation.

The EU executive is particularly keen to develop Iranian supplies as an alternative to Russia, whose powerful role as a source of around a third of EU oil and gas has divided the bloc.

“A first technical assessment mission in the field of energy to the country (Iran) will take place at the beginning of February,” Arias Canete said in a statement.

An EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said around 15 EU officials would go on the initial four-day technical visit and after that, high-level Commission staff, possibly with a business delegation, would travel to Iran.

Arias Canete said potential areas for cooperation included all areas of energy -- nuclear, oil, gas, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

In particular, he mentioned developing liquefied natural gas and also pipeline shipments through a route the European Union refers to as the “Southern Gas Corridor” to carry supplies into southern Europe as an alternative to Russian gas.

Since Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014, EU tensions over reliance on Russian energy have escalated.

German firms have joined a project to double the amount of Russian gas shipped directly to Germany, bypassing Ukraine, drawing fierce opposition from nations such as Poland.

Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle