By Christopher Hope
Iran warned yesterday that it 'will not forget' a decision by oil giant BP not to invest in the Middle Eastern republic because of US sanctions against companies investing in its energy industry.
The state's anger was roused by fresh comments at the weekend from Lord Browne of Madingley, BP's chief executive, who said that "politically, Iran is not a flyer" because of the sanctions.
Bijan Namdar Zanghaneh, Iran's oil minister, reacted angrily, saying: "We do not consider this to be a friendly attitude and we will not forget it.
"This is a gesture by BP in favour of the United States and this company has ruined its long-term interests in Iran." The US Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 imposes mandatory and discretionary sanctions on non-US companies investing more than $20m (£10.6m) every year in Iranian oil and gas. In late July 2001, the US Congress voted to renew the sanctions for five more years until the middle of next year.
In the remarks, which were confirmed as accurate by BP, Lord Browne said that investing in Iran "right now... is impractical for BP, because 40pc of BP is in the US and we are the largest producer of oil and gas in the US. Politically Iran is not a flyer. One day, I hope it is."
Mr Zanganeh played down the importance of BP to Iran. The company employs fewer than 100 people, mainly in a small lubricants business. He said: "Basically, BP has not had any oil projects in Iran during its 10-year presence here, except for some small research activities. We never counted on BP."
BP tried to play down the significance of Lord Browne's comments, pointing out that he had made similar points before. A source close to the chief executive added: "This has all been said before. In fact, he quite likes Iran because he was born there and he had some happy times when he was young."
The news emerged as Venezuela, the world's fifth largest oil exporter, blamed the recent rise in world oil prices on fears that the US might use military force against Iran because of the country's suspected nuclear programme. Rafael Ramirez, the country's oil minister, said: "There's a lot of nervousness.
"You can't have a threat over Iran and pretend that it won't affect oil prices."
Last week, US vice president Dick Cheney said that Iran "is right at the top of the list" of world trouble spots.