Iran General NewsU.S. pressure scuttles Iran buy of plastics firm

U.S. pressure scuttles Iran buy of plastics firm

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Reuters: Intense U.S. pressure has scuppered the possible acquisition of a European plastics firm by an Iranian state-owned company, Iran said on Wednesday, a day after it vowed to press on with its nuclear activities. Reuters

By Amir Paivar and Sitaraman Shankar

TEHRAN/FRANKFURT – Intense U.S. pressure has scuppered the possible acquisition of a European plastics firm by an Iranian state-owned company, Iran said on Wednesday, a day after it vowed to press on with its nuclear activities.

Iran’s National Petrochemical Company was favoured to buy Basell, the world’s top producer of the plastic polypropylene, from oil giant Royal Dutch/Shell and Germany’s BASF, in a deal that could have been worth 4.4 billion euros ($5.7 billion).

“Although NPC won all aspects of the Basell tender, due to U.S. pressures we are unofficially told Iran cannot buy Basell,” semi-official Iranian news agency ISNA quoted NPC Managing Director Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh as saying.

Reuters reported on Sunday that an acquisition by Iran was becoming less likely because of U.S. opposition. Rejection of the bid leaves a group of investors led by Purnendu Chatterjee and India’s Haldia Petrochemicals as the only alternative buyer.

NPC’s inability to clinch a deal with BASF and Shell is the latest evidence of a deep reluctance among European companies to do business with Iran in the face of U.S. pressure.

A source familiar with the negotiations told Reuters earlier this week that intense U.S. lobbying was making it difficult for the sellers to win boardroom backing for the Basell transaction.

Determined to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons, the United States has threatened to brand as “proliferators” companies large and small that supply any goods which could be used for civilian or military purposes.

This is making it harder, however, for Europe to offer Iran economic incentives to persuade it to abandon nuclear processes that could be used to build weapons.

German engineering conglomerate Siemens, French state-controlled nuclear power equipment company Areva and British oil major BP, have decided to stay out of Iran for now, industry sources and diplomats have said.

INDIAN BIDDER FAVOURED

A source close to the situation said on Wednesday that the Indian group was now the preferred bidder and a deal could be reached by the end of the week.

“I will not be able to comment on this at all,” said Swapan Bhowmik, chief executive of Haldia Petrochemicals.

As recently as Saturday, the Iranians were saying they expected to win the battle to buy Basell, the world’s top producer of polypropylene, which is used in a range of applications from steering wheels to packaging.

Iran vowed on Tuesday to press ahead with nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons and accused the United States and Israel of threatening international peace with their own atomic arsenals.

ISNA quoted Nematzadeh on Wednesday as saying the United States had scuttled the purchase of Basell.

“We have always been harmed by our enemies and this time too the United States tackled the purchase of Basell,” he said.

A State Department official told Reuters over the weekend that the department had expressed its concerns to BASF and Shell, which each own 50 percent of Basell.

He said the United States was concerned about potential misuse of Basell technology and the fact that, under the U.S. sanctions regime, U.S. companies would not be able to deal with Basell if Iran took it over.

A BASF spokesman said: “We are in negotiations over the sale of Basell. We hope a deal will be completed within the first half of this year.”

“We don’t comment on details of the negotiations.”

A spokeswoman for Shell said only that offers for Basell had been received and that advanced discussions were under way.

In Frankfurt, BASF shares were down 0.2 percent at 51.35 euros, while in London, Shell stock was up 0.3 percent at 473 pence.

(Additional reporting by Mark Thompson in Frankfurt, and Siobhan Kennedy in London)

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