Tuesday

9th Aug 2022

Interview

Iran keen to sell gas to EU

  • Jalali: 'We should be more concerned about hardliners in Congress' (Photo: Mehdi Mahdavian Sadr)

Iran is voicing fresh interest in selling gas to Europe. But the idea, which would reduce dependence on Russia, is conditional on the outcome of nuclear talks.

“The transfer of natural gas from Iran to Europe could be an alternative source of supply and could help Europe to diversify its energy sources”, Kazem Jalali, a senior Iranian MP who visited the EU capital last week, told EUobserver in an interview.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • In the past, Iran had good relations with European countries (Photo: kamshots)

He added, referring to Iran’s non-proliferation talks with the UN Security Council powers, that: “a final agreement between Iran and the 5+1, God willing, would open a very wide window of opportunity for co-operation. Iran is a good market which European companies can benefit from”.

The idea isn’t new.

When the EU and Turkey, in 2009, signed an agreement to construct “Nabucco”, a pipeline to supply gas from the Caspian Sea, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “We want Iranian gas to be included … when conditions allow”.

The US ambassador to Turkey also said Iran could be included “when the time is right”.

Nabucco is no longer being built.

But a smaller project, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, to supply gas from Azerbaijan, via Turkey and Greece, to Italy, is under way.

Jalali noted that construction of a connecting pipeline from Iran to Turkey “is something feasible” and said EU states should “follow-up on this in a serious manner”.

Conditions

The conditions are better now.

The EU, due to the Ukraine crisis, is keener than ever to reduce Russia dependence.

The so-called 5+1 talks in April – the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China - reached a provisional agreement to lift EU, UN, and US sanctions in return for a 15-year freeze on Iran’s uranium enrichment.

If they reach a final accord by 30 June, the deadline, it would allow Western energy firms to export the technology and invest the money which Iran needs to make exports viable.

Iran is also expected, in The Hague on 21 May, to sign the International Energy Charter, a treaty extending legal protection to private investors.

But the gas market isn’t what it used to be.

The EU, according to Eurogas, the industry’s trade association, consumed 461 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas in 2014, 11 percent less than the year before.

It’s on course to consume 421 bcm this year. Eurogas predicts 471 bcm in 2035. But if negative trends continue, the figure might be just 394 bcm.

One reason is the EU’s post-financial crisis recession.

But other reasons are here to stay: a shrinking population; migration of heavy industry; and EU environmental legislation.

Meanwhile, Iran has competition.

The EU-US free trade treaty is likely to increase US shale gas exports. Russia and Turkey recently agreed to build a new EU pipeline and Israel is lobbying EU capitals to back a Mediterranean Sea gas project.

Asked if Iran can compete, Jalali said it has so much gas that it can break into the market.

“Iran enjoys the biggest reserves of natural gas in the world”, he noted.

“We need to conduct a feasibility study to give an accurate answer. But we believe that a pipeline to Turkey is a good alternative. Iran already has a highly developed transmission network for gas to Iranian households”.

Human rights

It remains to be seen if the 5+1 talks bear fruit.

There is tension inside the UN group. For instance, Russia and the US disagree on whether sanctions should automatically “snap back” if Iran violates terms.

The nuclear deal faces opposition from Israel and Saudi Arabia, two US allies who abhor Iran, from the Republican Party in Washington, and from hardliners in Tehran.

The prospect of a detente is also under fire on human rights grounds.

Ryszard Czarnecki, a Polish centre-right MEP and a European Parliament vice-president, said last week that fellow MEPs should have refused to meet Jalali.

He noted that Iran executes hundreds of people a year, including political prisoners, and that religious authorities have launched a “broad-based conservative crackdown” on women’s rights.

“Such a delegation is not fit to openly visit with the legitimate representatives of modern, democratic nations”.

Asked if there’s a risk that Iranian hardliners will reject a nuclear deal, Jalali said: “We should be more concerned about hardliners in [the US] Congress. They’re more of a danger to the agreement. If we reach an accord which protects the interests of Iranian people, there’s no reason for objections from any party in Iran”.

On human rights, he added that Iran is open to outside criticism.

“Putting aside some people’s political motives, if there are good things we should do in our country, then we’ll accept those things”, he said.

He gave as an example a moratorium, imposed “several years ago”, on executions of minors.

Asked if Iranian conservatives would be content for Iranian society to become more Westernised, a potential consequence of political rapprochement, Jalali said: “I don’t believe this will be the case”.

“In the past, Iran had good relations with European countries … This is because of Iranian culture. We accept the good things in our interactions with other countries, but we reject the bad things in the values that we see. For anyone familiar with history, there were many cases in which savage countries attacked Iran, but they didn’t change our values. In fact, the opposite was true. When they entered Iran, and spent some time in Iran, the aggressors changed their culture”.

Opinion

EU and US differ on Iran sanctions

After decades of international isolation, Iran is eager to enter its post-sanction era, while Washington is divided about Iran’s future and Brussels remains apprehensive.

EU expected to announce Iran deal

Iran and world powers have reached a nuclear deal with the potential to transform Middle East politics, sources report.

Almost two-thirds of Europe in danger of drought

Data released by the European Drought Observatory show 60 percent of Europe and the United Kingdom is currently in a state of drought, with farming, homes and industry being affected. Drought conditions have also led to an increase in wildfires.

Brazil pitches itself as answer to Ukraine war food shortages

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is pitching his Latin American country as the answer to the world food crisis following the war in Ukraine. The traditional wheat importer has now exported three million tonnes of the grain so far in 2022.

Opinion

Exploiting the Ukraine crisis for Big Business

From food policy to climate change, corporate lobbyists are exploiting the Ukraine crisis to try to slash legislation that gets in the way of profit. But this is only making things worse.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us