* 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 (Reuters) - 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.
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. [ID:nN30268986].
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 nuclear energy.
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 see [ID:nLDE6900MZ]
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 spokeswoman said.
“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 future deals.
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 James Jukwey)