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Sun 13 Jul 2008 11:30 AM

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Iran confirms Total's withdrawal from project

French energy giant Total drops out of a multi-billion-dollar gas investment.

Iran's oil minister confirmed on Saturday that French energy giant Total has dropped out of a multi-billion-dollar gas investment in the Islamic republic, the state broadcaster reported.

"In our eye Total is considered out," Gholam Hossein Nozari was quoted as saying on the state broadcaster's website.

"Total's recent move in withdrawing from phase 11 of the South Pars is a completely political move and not a commercial one," Nozari said.

"As soon as we heard this news we started work on this phase with power and will continue powerfully," he added.

The French firm's chief Christophe de Margerie said in an interview published on Thursday that it was too politically risky to invest in Iran at present.

Total, with its expertise, was to develop phase 11 of Iran's giant South Pars gas field to produce liquefied natural gas (LNG) alongside Malaysia's Petronas.

Iranian energy officials had repeatedly said they would go ahead with the phase 11 gas project - even if they had to abandon the idea of producing LNG - with other foreign or domestic firms.

Iran has the world's second-largest reserves of natural gas. The South Pars field in the Gulf has around 500 trillion cubic feet (14 trillion cubic metres) of gas, which represents about eight percent of world reserves.

The development of Iran's giant offshore field has been delayed amid a lack of investment in a country faced with severe gas needs of its own in winter at the same time as planning ambitious gas export projects to Asia and Europe.

Western governments have pressured firms to cut their ties with Iran over the country's controversial nuclear programme, which world powers fear could be aimed at seeking atomic weapons - a charge vehemently denied by Tehran.

Tensions over the nuclear standoff have surged this week after Iran test-fired a broadside of missiles - including one it says brings Israel within range - in war games that provoked international concern.

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