LONDON, June 14 (Reuters) - Guinean President Alpha Conde denied on Friday there had been a change to the expected start of iron ore production from Rio Tinto’s part of the giant Simandou mine, sticking to what many analysts say is an unrealistic target of 2015.
Mines Minister Mohamed Lamine Fofana earlier this week said officially for the first time that the $20 billion Simandou iron ore project would miss its 2015 target, as the two sides work out issues including the financing of costly infrastructure.
“For me, the target is still 2015,” Conde said at a meeting in London, ahead of a G8 summit.
“(Fofana) did not speak for Guinea, he spoke in his own name.”
Rio and the government have been in debate regarding the project for months, including over how to combine a 2011 settlement deal - which ended hostilities after Rio was ejected from Simandou’s northern portion in 2008 - with an original investment agreement.
They have also discussed technical studies and financing, particularly for Guinea’s stake in infrastructure.
Guinea, like many emerging producers, is trying to balance the need to explore its resources and get a fair deal, with the need to keep miners investing at a time when investors are demanding caution and fewer big projects.
“If it turns out to be impossible, we have to be realistic. But we should keep our long-term perspective,” Conde said, adding Guinea would not be swayed by what he said was a temporary weakness in the iron ore price.
“We too face stakeholders - the people who elected us.”
Rio holds a concession for the southern portion of Simandou, while the north is held by the mining arm of Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz’s conglomerate, BSG Resources, and Brazil’s Vale .
Work on that side stopped last year after a review of the mining licence began.
Asked about the review of that contract, Conde said no decision would be taken before “the legal process is complete”, referring to a U.S. corruption investigation.
“Justice needs to be able to take its course,” he said.