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Shell executives visit Tehran for projects if sanctions end

Ben van Beurden, chief executive officer of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, gestures as he speaks during a session at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

[LONDON] Royal Dutch Shell Plc executives have visited Tehran to discuss possible partnerships, the latest sign that the largest oil companies are serious about returning to Iran once a deal on the country's nuclear program is done.

The meeting with Iranian officials covered its outstanding debt to National Iranian Oil Co and possible areas of business cooperation, the company said in an e-mailed statement Wednesday. Shell owed US$2.16 billion as of the end of 2014 for oil it wasn't able to pay Iran for because of sanctions, according to its annual report.

Shell has previously indicated its desire to re-enter Iran, holder of the world's fourth-largest oil reserves. Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden and his counterparts at France's Total SA and Italy's Eni SpA met Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh in Vienna earlier this month. The fact talks have also taken place in Tehran shows a deepening engagement by The Hague-based company.

Brent crude prices at US$63.50 a barrel on Thursday have fallen about 3 percent this month, partly on speculation of more supplies.

Seeking billions of dollars to revitalise its ailing oil industry, Iran plans to offer significantly better commercial terms to companies prepared to invest than offered during the last market opening almost two decades ago. Iran sees the return of foreign firms as a key goal from a potential nuclear deal that would remove sanctions. Talks on a final deal are scheduled to conclude at the end of this month.

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The Shell executives are the second from a major Western oil company to acknowledge a trip to Tehran this year. In May Claudio Descalzi, CEO of Italy's Eni SpA, revealed he had recently visited Iran and held meetings with senior officials.

The Rome-based company invested in Iran between 1999 and 2001 well before the last round of sanctions were imposed.

Iranian news agency Mehr earlier this month reported Shell officials visited Tehran to discuss petrochemical projects.


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