France’s Total, China’s Sinopec and the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, which is constricted by an existing exclusive technical assistance agreement on Azadegan with the Japanese, are among the companies so far approached by NIOC. None of the major IOCs in Tehran is known to have so far shown interest in taking over from the Japanese consortium.

‘The timeframe in which Japan enjoyed exclusive rights to developing the Azadegan oil field has expired for some time now, particularly since they failed to sign the contract in the time given to them,’ said Zanganeh. ‘NIOC has entered negotiations with international companies to develop the Azadegan oil field. But we have not reached any conclusive results yet.’

Although both Iran and Japan have publicly blamed the failure of their negotiations on Washington’s campaign to isolate Iran because of its nuclear power programme, oil sources in Tehran say commercial terms were far from agreed when the negotiating period expired. However, talks still continue.

The main impetus on the consortium to sign up for the project has been political, but support in Tokyo now seems to be waning, partly because the buyback terms of the project would not yield the long-term energy supply line that Japan needs. For Iran, some analysis suggests that there is less urgency to develop the project.