* Total still purchasing Iranian crude
* Statoil still providing technical assistance on gas field
* ENI says to exit Iran upon contracts expiry
* Shell says purchases of Iranian crude still legal
(Adds Shell comments, link to Factbox)
By Wojciech Moskwa and Lionel Laurent
OSLO/PARIS, Oct 1 European oil majors resisted
pressure from the United States to abandon all Iranian
activities, saying they would continue buying Iranian crude and
exit the country only upon expiry of existing contracts.
France's Total (TOTF.PA) said it was still buying Iranian
crude and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) said it was not illegal to
lift Iranian crude under the latest United Nations sanctions.
Norway's Statoil (STL.OL) said it was providing Tehran with
technical assistance while Italy's ENI (ENI.MI) said it would
exit Iran only when existing deals expire.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said on
Thursday Total, Statoil, ENI and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) will
suspend all dealings with Iran voluntarily to avoid American
sanctions designed to pressure Iran over its nuclear program.
Western powers seek to bring Tehran into new talks on an
atomic program they fear is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
Iran, which has resisted pressure to open wide-ranging
talks, says its nuclear program is peaceful and that while it is
open to talks, it will never give up its right to peaceful
The U.N. Security Council's five permanent members, the
United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, are working
with Germany to draw Iran back into negotiations that collapsed
last year. But progress has been slow and U.S. officials
describe sanctions as a way to pressure Tehran to talk.
For a factbox on foreign companies stepping away from Iran
CRUDE IS STILL LEGAL
Steinberg said the deal with European majors set a precedent
that other firms should follow but the majors said on Friday the
deal was not that straightforward.
"The group (Total) is in line with the relevant legislation,
on an international and European basis as well as national. The
recent European sanctions will keep to a minimum our activities
in the country, where already we were not very present" a Total
"Today we have no operations in Iran apart from the purchase
of crude oil, which today is considered licit."
She said Total had not cut back its dealings in Iran since
saying earlier this year it would halt the sale of oil products.
Total "answered fully" the questions asked by the U.S. State
Department on its Iranian operations, she said.
She would not say whether the State Department had given
orders or suggestions in addition to the questions.
"We are monitoring the evolution of the legal situation."
Shell also said it was complying with all legislation while
declining to comment on its trading activities. Traders say it
is still involved in Iranian crude purchases. "As you know, it
is not illegal to lift oil from Iran," a Shell spokesman said.
Statoil on its part also said on Friday it would conclude
work in Iran by 2012 at the latest but was still providing
technical assistance after finishing development of the South
Pars project last year.
"Already in 2008 we said that we would not make further
investments in Iran and we have been very open and transparent
on this policy," Statoil spokesman Baard Glad Pedersen said.
"We have completed South Pars 6, 7, 8 last year and since
then our activities have been limited to providing technical
assistance for the Iranian operator for a limited period."
He said the assistance programme was limited to three years
"but it may conclude before that."
ENI's spokesman said the group will exit Iran once its
commercial contracts in the country are concluded, reiterating
the group's position on Iran that it would abstain only from
Eni has a buyback agreement in Iran, which means it is paid
in barrels for its investments and traders say the group is
still bringing Iranian crude for its refineries in Italy.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Jewkes in Milan and Dmitry
Zhdannikov in London; writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; editing by