Iran Woos Westerners to Rebuild Oil Industry

Article excerpt

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ After denouncing Western oil companies as agents of Satan for more than a decade, Iran is wooing them back to rebuild its rundown oil industry and bankroll an economic revival. An extraordinary three-day energy conference hosted by the state-run National Iranian Oil Co. in the central city of Isfahan provided one of the clearest signals yet that Tehran is trying to emerge from prolonged isolation. The conference was attended by 300 delegates from the international oil industry, including the Caltex Corp. and Chevron Corp. The Iranians and Chevron emissaries were negotiating development of offshore oil fields. A few years ago the presence of American oil executives at a conference in Iran would have been unthinkable. Now, it appears to be the shape of things to come, if President Hashemi Rafsanjani has his way. It is also a barometer of his efforts to soften the puritanical strictures of the 1979 Islamic revolution, when the pro- Western shah was overthrown and oil interests were nationalized. Western companies dominated Iran's oil industry before the revolution. A senior government petroleum official disclosed during the conference that the Iranians were talking with other U.S. companies to import Iranian oil for the first time since 1987, when President Reagan embargoed Iranian crude. In addition, the Iranians and Chevron were said to be negotiating development of offshore oil fields. Earlier this year, the national oil company reached agreement with two leading U.S. petroleum companies, Coastal Corp. and Mobil Corp., to sell them oil for distribution outside the United States. "A new order is gradually emerging, in which economic considerations overshadow political considerations," Fore- ign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, one of Rafsanjani's key aides, told the conference before it ended Wednesday. Rafsanjani, leader of Tehran's so-called moderates, has been building relationships with the West and Iran's Arab neighbors since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the country's revolutionary patriarch, died in June 1989. His aim is to shed Iran's pariah status and attract badly needed foreign investment and Western technology. …