Iran’s signing of a multibillion-dollar contract with the French energy firm Total has stirred yet another controversy in Tehran, arousing strong emotions in both political wings of the Islamic Republic.
The contract is the first major Western energy investment since sanctions imposed to curtail Tehran's nuclear program were lifted following its agreement with the P5+1 countries. President Hassan Rouhani’s reformist administration has dubbed it a great victory and something to celebrate, while conservatives have voiced their anger against the deal.
One point of contention for the side of the political faction close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was that contract signing coincided with an anti-Islamic Republic public gathering in Paris on Saturday July 1.
Dubbed “Free Iran”, the ceremony was organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Hundreds of supporters and several current and former U.S. politicians participated in the event.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was quick to react, upon his return from Paris, expressing displeasure at the incident. However, that reaction was apparently not enough for conservatives in Iran.
Tehran's conservative newspaper Kayhan wrote on July 6: “Signing the contract with the French oil firm Total coincided with two negative events, the new EU sanctions against Iran that happened during Iran’s foreign minister’s trip to France, the other being the propaganda show of a very notorious Iranian group in Paris.”
[The French] have always insisted that they have no relationship with the [MEK] whatsoever.Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif talking to journalists upon his return from Paris on July 1, criticizing the French Government for allowing the Iranian opposition group MEK hold a gathering in Paris. Some domestic critics blast President Hassan Rouhani's administration for dealing with a French company at such a time
Another issue raised by the critics of the Total contract is the share of Tehran from the deal: Total had already signed a preliminary agreement with Iran in November, acquiring a 50.1 percent stake in the $4.8 billion project. The deal includes 30 natural gas wells and two production units. The China National Petroleum Corporation owns 30 percent. Iran’s Petropars controls a 19.9 percent stake.
Rouhani's opponents have described the figures as "humiliating", "colonizing" and "exploitative" among other things.
The subject of the controversial contract is an offshore field, the largest natural gas field in the world. It was first developed in the 1990s, when Total was one of the largest investors in Iran. The company decided to put the contract on hold to assess the situation after U.S. President Donald Trump took office. Obviously, Total later decided to proceed.
Meanwhile, the number of signatures added to the list of the opponents to the Total contract continues to grow. Ahmad Alamolhoda, Ayatollah Khamenei’s representative in Khorasan-Razavi province in the northeast of the country described the contract as “exploitative and colonizing” by the West. Mr. Alamolhoda spoke about “the confidential part of the contract” that, according to him, has relegated 75 percent of the contract value to Total.
A former senior member of Iran’s parliament, Alireza Zakani, has also chided Rouhani for signing a contract that is, according to him, disapproved of by the Supreme Leader.
In response, Rouhani’s supporters dove into the heated discussion. Presidential advisor Hessamoldin Ashna wrote in an apparent response to the critics: “Hold your fire under your control and do not get your not-so-clean-hands oily!”
“Hold your fire” is also a reference to a highly controversial June 7 message by Ayatollah Khamenei asking his followers to act in a “fire at will” manner. The leader later softened his tone and said “fire at will” does not mean anarchy.
Prompted by the debate, Rouhani’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdaar-Zanganeh also stepped in. He announced that a committee made up of seven members from the Supreme Council of National Security, the president’s office and four former oil ministers have already approved of the contract.
At the same time, Eshaq Jahangiri, President Rouhani’s vice president, blamed some "foreign elements" of trying to sabotage Tehran’s economic ties with the West.ac
Do not get your not-so-clean-hands oily....Hessamoldin Ashna, President Rouhani's adviser, in a tweet blasting critics of the Total contract
“Certain countries that share oil and gas fields with Iran spend their money inside and outside our country to keep Tehran from signing new contracts in oil industry,” Jahangiri said.
Iran shares 27 oil and gas fields with other countries. The subject of the Total contract, called South Pars Gas-Condensate field on the Iranian side, is shared with Qatar.
Meanwhile, an avalanche of messages protesting against the contract are making rounds on social media pages, blasting President Rouhani for what the protesters call “selling Iran”.
One famous message reads: “If Rouhani keeps going on like this, nothing will be left of Iran by [the Persian solar year] 1400 [four years from now]. Less than two months ago, a motto of Rouhani’s presidential campaign was “with Rouhani until 1400,” in a display of how quickly messages can be subverted within the Islamic Republic.