Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Iran warns BP it 'will not forget' oil firm's refusal to do business

The following editorial is compiled by Daily Star staff - Lebanon - Tuesday, January 25, 2005:

Iran warned on Monday it would not forget a decision by British oil giant BP to pull out of the Islamic Republic because of U.S. sanctions against companies investing in the country's vital energy industry.

"We do not consider this to be a friendly attitude and we will not forget it. This is a gesture by BP in favor of the United States and this company has ruined its long-term interests in Iran," Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanghaneh told reporters.

BP's chief executive John Browne was quoted as saying last week that it was "impractical" for his company to do business in Iran due to its massive operations in the United States.

"To do business with Iran at the moment would be offensive to the United States, and therefore against BP's interests,'' Browne said at the London headquarters. "We're very heavily influenced by our American position.''

BP, with origins in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company formed in 1909, was forced out of Iran in the 1970s during a phase of rampant nationalization of oil industries in the Middle East.

BP has spent almost $100 billion on acquisitions, including Amoco Corp. and Atlantic Richfield Co., and currently gets almost half of its revenue from the U.S. Most of the company's growth is centered on Russia, the second largest oil exporter in the world.

The U.S. Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 imposes mandatory and discretionary sanctions on non-U.S. companies investing more than $20 million annually in Iranian oil and gas. In late July 2001, the U.S. Congress voted to renew the sanctions for five more years.

But Zanganeh played down the importance of BP's decision.

"Basically BP has not had any oil projects in Iran during its 10-year presence here, except for some small research activities. We never counted on BP," he said.

Brown said he has not been in any talks with Iran since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which "changed everything."

BP is allegedly unhappy with Iran's investment policies, so-called "buybacks," where foreign companies operate a project in Iran to cover development and running costs, and earn a profit before handing the project over to the state.

"You can't plan for the long term in this area,'' Brown said. "When we were talking to Iran some time ago, we were trying to explore other ways.''

This "exploration" is focusing on Iraq. "We want to help Iraq build its oil and gas business, if the circumstances are right,'' Browne said. "We want to participate in it. Step one is to do the study for Iraq.''

Browne conceded however that due to the hazardous security situation in Iraq BP would only be carrying out studies over the next year at the Rumaila oil field.

"For a company like BP it is not the right moment to physically go into Iraq, the real issue if the security of our personnel,'" Browne said. "People joined BP to do oil and gas, not to be a soldier.'" - Agencies


Monday, January 17, 2005

Report says US preparing strikes in Iran

The following is a copy of a report published by ISN Security Watch, January 17, 2005:

Veteran US journalist Seymour Hersh writes in the latest edition of The New Yorker weekly magazine that US Special Forces are conducting reconnaissance operations in Iran in preparation of possible future military strikes against suspected nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons installations there.

The report, posted on Monday, is entitled “The Coming Wars – What the Pentagon can now do in secret”. Citing high-ranking defense officials, Hersh says that the so-called “neoconservatives” in the administration regard US President George Bush’s election victory in November as a vindication and legitimization of their militant foreign policy. As a result, the role of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld can be expected to increase, a former high-level defense official said. Responsibility for the expanded “war on terror” will be taken away from the CIA – which will be downgraded to serve as a “facilitator” of White House policy – and given to the Pentagon, which has the freedom to run “black” operations “free from legal restrictions imposed on the CIA”, Hersh writes.

Such secret operations have been authorized by Bush in up to ten Middle Eastern and South Asian states, according to The New Yorker. Iran in particular has been a nuisance for so long that patience with EU-led negotiations over its nuclear program is said to be fading in Washington.

One senior official of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told Hersh that “the civilian leadership in the Pentagon” considered negotiations “a bad deal” because they did not exert enough pressure on Tehran, and thought Iran needed “to be whacked”.

The extent of Iran’s nuclear program is difficult to assess, and leaders in Tehran say that they are only conducting research for peaceful applications. US and other Western intelligence agencies believe that Iran is three to five years away from producing its own nuclear warheads, while the Islamic state is already believed to possess an advanced delivery system.

A government consultant with close ties to the US Defense Department told Hersh that US Special Forces had conducted secret reconnaissance missions in Iran since the summer of 2004 to identify three dozen or more target installations for destruction by air strikes or commando raids.

Sources also told Hersh that Pakistan was cooperating closely with US officials on this issue, allowing US military task forces to infiltrate Iran from across the Pakistani border and supplying information on Iran’s alleged nuclear developments. In return, Washington is turning a blind eye on the nuclear proliferation activities of the former head of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, and is allowing Pakistan to purchase spare parts for its nuclear arsenal on the international black market, Hersh writes.

The transfer of primary responsibility for Washington’s “global terror war” from the CIA to Rumsfeld’s Defense Department dovetails with recent reports of a Presidential Finding signed by Bush that allows unilateral clandestine military operations in countries seen as hosting terrorists. That list of countries may include Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Malaysia, and Tunisia, and others, Hersh indicates.

Some US officials say they are concerned about the legal implications of the Pentagon getting carte blanche to operate without Congressional oversight and say that the militarization of counter-terrorism could result in the formation of death squads such as those backed by the US in El Salvador’s civil war during the 1980s.

Although Rumsfeld is unpopular among the US armed forces and has come in for heavy criticism for his handling of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, Bush’s support would give him the freedom to operate in a “global free-fire zone”, a Pentagon adviser said. “It’s not empowering military intelligence. It’s emasculating the CIA,” he added. White House spokesman Dan Bartlett offered a formal rebuttal of Hersh’s report on Sunday: "I think it's riddled with inaccuracies, and I don't believe that some of the conclusions he's drawing are based on fact," Bartlett said.