Sanctions push Angola to abandon Iran project

Sanctions push Angola to abandon Iran project

Angola's Sonangol is pulling out of a $7.5 billion natural-gas project in Iran due to sanctions, a top executive with the African state-oil giant said Friday, Wall Street Journal reported.

The Angolan disclosure comes as the U.S. and European Union continue to expand sanctions and try to persuade consumers of Iranian oil to find alternative supplies, in order to choke off Tehran's revenue and force it to abandon what the West says is a program to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies.

Speaking at a news conference in Luanda, Mateus de Brito, an executive with state-owned oil giant Sociedade Nacional de Combustiveis de Angola, said: "Sonangol is out of Iran" due to international sanctions.

"Our operations in Iran are unsustainable, especially due to those sanctions, and Sonangol decided to exit and has informed the Iranian government of its decision," he said, adding that "there are only a few procedures left" before the exit is complete.

In 2009, Sonangol signed up for 20% in a project in Iran's giant South Pars field after European companies pulled out of the country due to previous sanctions.

A spokesman for the National Iranian Oil Co. couldn't be reached for comment. But top Angolan and Iranian oil officials have previously said the Southern African nation was backing away from the project after coming under U.S. pressure. Officials said Angola was worried the Iranian investment would antagonize Iran's critics in the U.S., where the Angolan energy concern maintains an oil-trading business and stakes in blocks in the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. State Department confirmed last month it had contacted Angola on Iran sanctions, without providing more details.

Iran once hoped ties with Africa could be insulated from mounting international isolation, but many of its trade partners on the continent are having cold feet after coming under U.S. pressure.

In South Africa, Sasol Ltd. said last month it was starting to diversify oil sources away from Iranian imports after a top U.S. energy official visiting the country discussed oil sanctions on Iran. The energy giant has also said it is debating whether to divest itself of its 50% share in a $900 million Iranian petrochemical project, largely because it feared being targeted by international sanctions.

In addition, the Iranian cellular operation of South Africa's MTN Group Ltd. is the target of a U.S. lobby group, which is seeking to get foreign businesses to leave Iran. But the flagship telecommunications company has said it has no intention to divest its 49% stake in Iran's second-largest cellphone carrier.

Edited by: S. Isayev

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