US to review if Statoil violates Iran sanctions law

WASHINGTON, July 9 (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department will review Norwegian oil and gas giant StatoilHydro's STL.OL role in helping to develop Iranian natural gas to see if it violates a U.S. sanctions law against Tehran, a senior U.S. official told Congress on Wednesday.

William Burns, U.S. Under Secretary of State for political affairs, said Statoil’s business dealings in Iran required “a further serious review” to clarify whether the company is violating the Iran Sanctions Act.

Congress enacted the sanctions law to punish foreign companies that invest more than $20 million in Iran’s oil or gas sectors.

“We are going to take a careful look to see whether that (Statoil) transaction falls within the purview of the ISA,” Burns said at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Iran.

The United States has never punished foreign companies that appeared to violate the law, as the State Department can waive action against the firms, if doing so is deemed to be in the best interest of the United States.

“Sometimes when we press hard, as we do, and try to use the deterrent effect of the ISA, companies draw back from prospective investments or business transactions,” Burns said.

He pointed out that several big energy companies, including Total, Shell, ENI and Repsol, have scaled back their business in Iran over the past few years.

In a related matter, Sen. Christopher Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said on Wednesday he will move a bill through his panel that toughens sanctions on Iran in response to Tehran test-firing nine missiles.

He said the legislation would authorize investors to divest from companies that operate in Iran’s oil sector, putting more pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear program. (Editing by Walter Bagley)