By SHAI OSTER And SIMON HALL
BEIJING—China's biggest oil company is pressing ahead with oil-and-gas projects in Iran valued at billions of dollars, its top executive said, highlighting Beijing's strong economic ties to Tehran even as China has signed onto a U.S.-led sanctions effort against Iran.
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.The longstanding initiatives by China National Petroleum Corp., running in tandem with a $60 billion global investment plan over the next decade, wouldn't violate the United Nations Security Council draft resolution devised by the U.S. to punish Iran for its nuclear program. China, along with Russia, agreed to that draft after concessions from Washington that protect energy and financial ties to Iran.
Still, the statement by Jiang Jiemin, president of state-owned China National Petroleum, on Thursday—just two days after the sanctions resolution was announced—illustrates the continued complexity of Beijing's relationship with Iran, one of the biggest suppliers of crude oil for China's fast-growing economy.
"We will implement our projects in Iran as usual, and we don't have plans to speed up," Mr. Jiang told a news conference at the annual general meeting of PetroChina Co., China National Petroleum's Hong Kong- and New York-listed subsidiary.
Russia, too, has substantial economic interests in Iran. On Thursday, Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of the state nuclear company, reaffirmed that Russia plans to start operations by August at a nuclear plant it is building in Bushehr, in southern Iran, the Interfax news agency reported. Moscow denies that the plant has any link to Tehran's suspected military nuclear program. Western nations have criticized Russia's plans to go ahead with the plant.
China National Petroleum's $60 billion international push is aimed at increasing its overseas oil production to four million barrels a day, from 284,000 now. The effort is being spearheaded by PetroChina, which is the world's second-most-valuable oil company after Exxon Mobil Corp. China National Petroleum has been selling assets to PetroChina that aren't already part of the listed unit, but it keeps assets in politically sensitive countries like Iran and Sudan out of PetroChina to avoid backlash from international shareholders.
China National Petroleum is in various phases of developing three fields in Iran, including work on one of the world's biggest natural-gas fields, and on enhancing recovery from a small, older oil field. Mr. Jiang said he expected production from the older field to hit around 20,000 barrels a day later this year. "Regarding our projects that have been started, we will continue to do so," he said.
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Jiang Jiemin, chairman of China National Petroleum
.Iran was China's third-biggest supplier of oil last year after Saudi Arabia and Angola. China's other big state-owned oil companies, China National Offshore Oil Co. and China National Petrochemical Corp., also have projects in Iran, as do oil companies from more than three dozen other countries including the U.K., France and Japan.
Faced at home with both declining oil production and rising demand, China has been importing more oil from countries like Iran. China believes stability in the Middle East is good for energy security, but it doesn't want sanctions to cut off its supply of Iranian crude, which could have forced it to buy more oil elsewhere with the possible effect of driving up global prices.
While China agreed to the new sanctions draft, it also applauded a fuel-exchange deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey earlier in the week meant to pre-empt the U.N. Security Council action. The new U.N. proposal relies heavily on discretionary enforcement of the measures against Iran, so China still has wiggle room over how strictly it wants to enforce the new proposals if they are adopted at the U.N.
Mr. Jiang, who is also chairman of PetroChina, said he hopes to see oil prices between $70 and $80 a barrel and was optimistic PetroChina's first half financial results would meet analysts' expectations.
—Wan Xu and Gregory L. White contributed to this article.
Write to Shai Oster at firstname.lastname@example.org and Simon Hall at email@example.com
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