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Reports: Chinese Energy Giant Was Under US Pressure to Exit Iran Gas Project


China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC)'s Dalian Petrochemical Corp refinery is seen near the downtown of Dalian in Liaoning province, China July 17, 2018.

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service. Yibing Feng of VOA Mandarin contributed from Beijing.

Published reports say a Chinese state energy company that appears to have pulled out of a natural gas project in Iran had been under pressure to do so because of U.S. sanctions against Tehran.

Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh announced the departure of China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) from the joint venture to develop Iran’s South Pars offshore gas field in comments Sunday reported by his ministry’s website.

Zanganeh said Iranian company Petropars, which originally had partnered with CNPC and France’s Total on the project, will develop the gas field on its own.

FILE - A general view shows a unit of South Pars Gas field in Asalouyeh Seaport, north of Persian Gulf, Iran Nov. 19, 2015.
FILE - A general view shows a unit of South Pars Gas field in Asalouyeh Seaport, north of Persian Gulf, Iran Nov. 19, 2015.

Total initially held a 50.1% stake in the joint venture announced in 2017, while CNPC had 30% and Petropars had 19.9%. Total withdrew from the project in August 2018 as the U.S. began reimposing sanctions on Iran to pressure it to negotiate a new deal to end its nuclear and other perceived malign activities.

China's Foreign Ministry acknowledged receiving VOA questions about the status of CNPC's involvement in the South Pars project, but did not provide any response by late Tuesday. There was little coverage of Iran's announcement about the project in Chinese state-controlled media outlets and no mention of it on the CNPC website.

A report published Monday by The Wall Street Journal said CNPC executives previously had acknowledged that the company was struggling to find banks to transfer funds to Iran due to U.S. pressure. The article said CNPC's own financial institution, the Bank of Kunlun, had told customers it was no longer processing trades with Iran, while publicly asserting it intended to keep its business with Tehran going.

The South China Morning Post reported that CNPC also “could have cause for concern when it comes to (U.S.) sanctions” because the company’s website says it has a four-year-old U.S.-based subsidiary that has made a “significant financial investment” in the United States.

The Trump administration has been unilaterally toughening sanctions on Iran since last year, calling on other nations not to do business with its energy and financial sectors and imposing secondary sanctions on foreign companies and individuals who defy those warnings.

U.S. officials sanctioned several Chinese shipping companies and executives last month for importing Iranian oil in defiance of a total ban on Iranian oil exports imposed by the U.S. in May.

A Bloomberg report said CNPC’s role in the South Pars project had been uncertain for several months. It said Zanganeh had complained in February that CNPC had not carried out any of its share of the work. The report said CNPC was in negotiations to remain a partner in the project as recently as August, according to the head of Iran’s Pars Oil and Gas Co.