France’s Total to Abandon Iran Gas Project if it is Not Exempt from US Sanctions

France’s Total to Abandon Iran Gas Project if it is Not Exempt from US Sanctions

Wednesday, 16 May, 2018 - 18:30
France's Total may withdraw from a major project in Iran over possible US sanctions. (AFP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
French oil major Total warned on Wednesday it will abandon a major gas field project in Iran unless it is exempt from US sanctions against Tehran.

The administration of President Donald Trump is phasing back in sanctions after his withdrawal last week from the Iran nuclear deal.

Total started the South Pars 11 project in July 2017, two years after Western powers signed a nuclear deal with Tehran.

In announcing his withdrawal from the deal, Trump warned companies that they face sanctions if they do business with Iran.

As a consequence, "Total will not be in a position to continue the SP11 project and will have to unwind all related operations before 4 November 2018 unless Total is granted a specific project waiver by the US authorities with the support of the French and European authorities," the French company said in a statement.

The group said it has $10 billion of capital employed in its US assets, and US banks are involved in 90 percent of its financing operations, making Total highly vulnerable if targeted by any US actions.

By contrast, Total said it had spent less than 40 million euros ($47 million) on the Iranian project, which it runs with its partner Petrochina and which is dedicated to the supply of domestic gas inside Iran.

A withdrawal from the Iran project would not affect Total's current overall production targets as the group had since opened up other growth opportunities, it said.

For the French company to stay, a project waiver would have to protect the company from "any secondary sanction as per US legislation", it said.
Companies are starting to take matters into their own hands as European and some other governments struggle to save the Iran deal.

Determined to keep the accord alive, European leaders need to find a way to assure companies that their investments are beyond Washington’s extra-territorial reach. France, Germany and Britain are leading a European effort to safeguard Europe’s economic interests but have few options that pose any threat to the United States.

“It would be suicide to do any new business or funding for Iran or Iran-related companies without explicit guarantees from the US government. They have us by the throat because so much business is conducted and cleared in dollars,” one European investment banker said.

“The fines are in the multibillions these days so it’s just not worth the risk for a small piece of business and maybe pleasing a (European) government.”

A European diplomat was more blunt: “We have a situation where there is a will to impose sanctions on Europeans and a resentment towards European companies who are now being accused of supporting a terrorist state. With that in mind it’s a logical decision.”

Total’s announcement comes after German insurer Allianz and Danish oil product tanker operator Maersk Tankers said they were winding down their businesses in Iran.

Joe Kaeser, the CEO of Germany’s Siemens, told CNN his company would not be able to do any new business with Tehran.

Italy’s Eni, which last June signed a provisional agreement with Tehran to conduct oil and gas feasibility studies, said after Washington’s decision to quit the nuclear deal last week that it had no plans for new projects in Iran.

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