Iran Will Resume Natural Gas Sales to Soviets

From Times Wire Services

Iran announced Monday that it will resume natural-gas deliveries to the Soviet Union after a seven-year suspension, the first major agreement with its superpower neighbor since the 1979 Iranian revolution, according to press reports monitored here.

The Tehran newspaper Kayhan quoted Iranian Oil Minister Gholamreza Aghazadeh as saying that the exports would begin again after experts from the two sides complete a feasibility study on the state of a disused pipeline running from Iran to the southern Soviet republics.

Aghazadeh, who visited Moscow last week to negotiate the gas agreement, said Iran would start by exporting 105 million cubic feet of natural gas a day to the Soviet Union, perhaps by December, and gradually raise the volume to 3.15 trillion cubic feet a day in 1990. It was not immediately clear how much the Soviets would pay for the resumption of shipments.

Gas exports are vital to Iran’s economy, battered by the country’s 6-year-old war with Iraq, which costs $7 billion a year by official Iranian estimates. The declining world price of oil, another crucial Iranian export, also has damaged the Iranian economy.


Bid for Improved Ties

The announcement of the new deal came amid a major effort by Tehran to improve relations with the Soviets, the main arms supplier to Iraq. Likewise, Moscow has been interested in improving relations with Iran to increase its influence in the Persian Gulf region and play a role as a mediator in the war.

Iran began selling natural gas to the Soviet Union in 1970 through a 690-mile pipeline built by Soviet experts and running from the southern Iranian oil fields to the Soviet Caspian Sea port of Baku.

Shortly after the Iranian revolution in 1979 that toppled Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Tehran halted the natural gas sales and the pipeline fell into disuse, making a feasibility study necessary before sales can resume. Iran wants the study completed in three months. At the time the gas deliveries were shut off, the Soviet Union was receiving about 1.8 billion cubic feet a year from Iran.


Communists Expelled

Relations already strained by the the 1979 revolution worsened in 1984 when the Tehran government expelled 16 Soviets for allegedly spying and cracked down on the pro-Moscow Tudeh Party.

According to the newspaper Kayhan, Aghazadeh said that Iran would export 105 million cubic feet of gas a day from December, 1986, to March, 1987.

The shipments would increase to 350 million cubic feet a day from March, 1987 to February, 1988, Aghazadeh said.


For one year, until February, 1989, the gas exports would increase sharply to 1.75 trillion cubic feet a day, rising to 3.15 trillion cubic feet a day in March, 1990, the minister said.

The Soviets are expected to send much of the gas on to Eastern Bloc countries that depend on subsidized, low-price supplies from Moscow.