NIOC managing director, Seyfollah Jashnsaz, said phases 6-8 and 9-10 will be launched by next June and March respectively.

Both projects have been lagging behind schedule and Jashnsaz told Iran’s official energy news agency, Shana, that the two phases were to be prioritised in the company’s forthcoming plans for 2008-09.

The project will provide a further test of international contractor’s appetite for the contentious gas development programme.

Foreign companies have been avoiding investing in Iran due to the difficulties in securing finance as a result of the US sanctions.