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Gazprom signs oil deal with Iran as Russians return in force

Russian companies including Gazprom PJSC signed a raft of initial agreements with Iran that could lead to contracts worth billions of dollars, as Energy Minister Alexander Novak outlined Russia’s ambition to become a major investor in the Persian Gulf nation.

A Russian delegation to Tehran signed nine agreements in industries ranging from energy to railways. Gazprom reached an unspecified accord with Iran’s state natural gas company, and its subsidiary Gazprom Neft PJSC signed a deal to study the Cheshmeh-Khosh and Changuleh oil fields. State-run Gazprom is the third Russian energy company to sign a memorandum of understanding with Iran, joining Lukoil PJSC and Zarubezhneft OAO.

“Our priority is to develop Iran’s big projects,” Novak said at one of several signing ceremonies on Tuesday. “These agreements will have a significant influence on the relationship between our two countries.”

The number of foreign business delegations visiting Tehran has swelled since the easing of sanctions in January opened Iran’s $400 billion economy to global investors. Even so, many international companies have refrained from signing final deals to invest in the country as they assess risks amid sanctions that are still in place and as they wait to see what U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump and Iranian elections in May might mean for business.

Russian investors may be able to move into Iran more quickly than Western European competitors because Russian banks are less constrained by remaining U.S. sanctions on Iran, Richard Dalton, a former U.K. ambassador to Tehran, said by phone. “Russia is better placed certainly than the U.K., France or Germany,” he said.

OPEC member Iran has sharply boosted sales of crude oil sales since the loosening of sanctions over its nuclear program. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which decided last month to cut its collective output to shore up prices, gave Iran an exemption and will allow the nation to boost output by 90,000 barrels a day to 3.8 million barrels a day starting Jan. 1.

The Oil Ministry has courted international oil companies to help it meet its production targets. Royal Dutch Shell Plc signed a deal last week to assess three of Iran’s largest oil and gas fields, while Total SA reached a non-binding agreement in November for a $4.8 billion gas-development project.

“We have significant need for capacity,” Hamid-Reza Araghi, managing director of National Iranian Gas Co., said after signing the agreement with Gazprom. “God willing, in the next one or two months, we will be able to convert these into projects and contracts.”

Russia also signed agreements to develop the Bandar Abbas power station on the southern Iranian coast and to electrify a railway in the country’s northeast, Iran’s Information and Communications Technology Minister Mahmoud Vaezi said. Together with other agreements in trade, finance, industry, mining and agriculture, the preliminary deals could lead to final contracts with a total value of $10 billion, he said.

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