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Iran Races to Clinch Oil Deals Before Donald Trump Takes Office

TEHRAN — President Hassan Rouhani of Iran is racing to sign as many oildeals with Western companies as he can before hard-liners at home and President-elect Donald J. Trump have a chance to return the Mideast country to cultural and economic isolation.

 

At the same time, Iran is in a battle with Saudi Arabia and other OPEC producers to reclaim its position as one of the world’s leading oil exporters, a spot it lost during the years of international sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program.

 

Iran’s oil industry, the lifeblood of its economy, was devastated by the cumulative impact of the nuclear sanctions, which halved petroleum exports and left the country ostracized economically.

 

The international nuclear agreement that lifted those sanctions nearly a year ago, one of the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy initiatives, has enabled Iran to partly recover. But Mr. Trump has warned that he may dismantle the deal, a threat that has injected new urgency into Iran’s push to build up its oil industry before Mr. Trump takes power next month.


provisional agreement this week with Royal Dutch Shell to develop two of the country’s largest oil fields is the latest sign of interest in Iran from international energy companies. Over the last four weeks, Tehran has negotiated similar agreements with the oil field services giant Schlumberger and companies from China, Norway, Thailand and Poland.

 

The deals, if completed, would bring much-needed expertise and foreign investment. Just as important, though, the agreements could provide a lifeline to the rest of the world, experts say, cementing relations with a number of European and Asian countries. That, they say, could provide an insurance policy of sorts against any punitive actions taken next year by the Trump administration and the Republican-dominated Congress.

 

Few Iranian officials like to acknowledge their country’s vulnerability, insisting it is immune to outside pressures. But the election of Mr. Trump and his selection of a national security team that views Iran as a major threat in the Middle East seems at the least certain to usher in a new period of tensions, and could ultimately threaten Iran’s efforts to rejoin the global economy.

 

“Our officials are in a rush to sign contracts with big oil companies in order to have leverage when Trump enters the White House,” said Saeed Laylaz, an economist with close ties to the government of Mr. Rouhani. The Iranian president came to power promising to end Iran’s isolation and revive its economy, so the advent of a Trump presidency poses a dire threat to his political future.

 

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