Iran's biggest oil tanker operator NITC is in talks with French bank BNP Paribas over the repayment of hundreds of millions of dollars in loans using Iranian funds held in South Korea, sources familiar with the matter said, Reuters reported.
NITC, a major transporter of Iran's crude exports to world markets in addition to other international business, lost its ship insurance cover from European providers earlier this year due to sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran to curb its work on nuclear enrichment.
The Islamic Republic says the programme is for peaceful purposes, but Western countries suspect Tehran wants to develop the ability to build a nuclear weapon.
NITC, the leading player in Iran's main method of transport for international trade, has also faced calls to pay back bank loans. Major western banks normally require shipping customers to have western insurance for vessels as a condition of the loans.
The talks show the increasing financial complexities faced by Iranian companies in doing business abroad.
"Even where Iranian entities manage to still do business legitimately, they are having serious difficulties either closing deals or even simply repatriating payments when they have been made -- at which point the whole reason for engaging in commerce is obviated," said J. Peter Pham, with the Atlantic Council, a U.S. think-tank.
"When even significant foreign financial institutions have to devote considerable resources to just getting their money, the cost of doing business will eventually become more than it is worth. This is apparently the strategy which the Obama administration is pursuing," he added.
NITC, which was founded in 1955 and fully privatised in 2000, is owned by three Iranian pension funds. The company said in June it had secured ship insurance cover mainly in Asia and also in Iran after European providers pulled out.
NITC has said it is not on any list of companies targeted by the U.N., U.S. or EU and is "not engaged in, nor has it been accused of, any prohibited activities".
One of the sources said BNP Paribas, France's biggest listed bank, wanted its money back because of concerns over the euro zone financial crisis.
The French bank said it does not comment on this type of subject. An NITC official said he was not aware of the issue, while another NITC official said, "We are OK for now", and declined to comment further.