Tehran, Feb 13, IRNA-The Parliament on Sunday approved the general outlines of a bill to sharply cut telecom major Turkcell's shares in a multi-billion-dollar Iranian contract.
According to the approval, which could force the Turkish company to bow out of the deal, Iran's share in the contract to set up the country's first private mobile telephone network will be raised to 51 percent, with the rest going to the foreign party.
"The division of shares among Irancell shareholders must be carried out in a way that the Iranian companies' stake does not go below 51 percent," the Parliament declared in approving the bill.
The parliament also approved that security issues related to the contract be approved by the Supreme National Security Council.
Iran's Minister of Communications and Information Technology Ahmad Motamedi, stated that a final approval would put Turkcell in a position to claim compensation for the consequent losses.
He said the move could also lead to a situation where 'no country will ever risk to be party to Iranian deals'.
Motamedi did not rule out the issue making a case for referral to The Hague for arbitration.
"I hope this will not go as far as that, but if the issue does not go ahead according to the deal, the Turkish side can file a suit," he told reporters on the sidelines of the parliament session.
Last month, Turkcell threatened to abandon the deal after an ad hoc parliamentary committee trimmed down the company's stake.
A representative of the company, Hakan Toygar, told IRNA that Turkcell would have to abandon the deal if Iran's parliament followed suit after its special commission decided to limit the company's stake.
Turkey's leading GSM operator is expected to invest about three billion dollars in the project, making it one of the biggest foreign investments in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The company, however, has failed to go ahead with the project amid political saber-rattling inside Iran over worries that the country's security could be compromised.
Outlining the commission's reasons for the move, one deputy stated that 'one of the MPs' criticisms regarding the Turkcell contract was related to the division of the shares, where 70 percent was in the hands of non-Iranians against 30 percent for Iranians'.
Motamedi said a likely cancellation of the contract could leave the Iranian government with a 3,140-billion-rial ($314 million) budget deficit this year.
Like Irancell, the fate of a deal to build and operate a major airport in southern Tehran by a Turkish consortium, TAV, has remained in balance amid security worries.
Intelligence Minister Ali Younessi however has dismissed security worries over the Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKIA) deal, saying the problems are being sorted out.
Younessi says the problem is related to 'procedural' differences which, he says, are being removed.
The evening daily Kayhan Sunday quoted the newly-appointed transport minister, Mohammad Rahmati, as saying that officials have accepted to cede the IKIA to a consortium of six domestic entities if parliament removes TAV from the picture.
"In the event of the Majlis' opposition to the participation of the Turkish company TAV in the IKIA deal, the situation will change across-the-board," the paper quoted him.
He did not elaborate.
Rahmati said the government as well as the transport ministry are awaiting parliament's decision on whether to engage TAV in the deal.
Iran's armed forces closed down the Imam Khomeini International Airport on May 8, 2004, citing security concerns, just after it was officially inaugurated with the landing of a foreign aircraft.
Officials have said that the IKIA will eventually be able to handle 40 million passengers a year, making Tehran a regional transport hub.
The country's armed forces, however, have stressed that the airport will remain closed as long as 'security requirements' for conducting flights from the facility are not met.
Younessi called the closure 'a mistake which will be made up for'.
The dispute has beaten all the way up to the Iranian parliament, leading to the impeachment in October of transport minister Ahmad Khorram, whose ministry had awarded the IKIA contract to the Turks.
The parliament also passed an urgent bill, giving itself the prerogatives to scrap the two contracts if they are deemed a threat to national security.
The decision prompted the Government to postpone President Mohammad Khatami's planned visit to Turkey.
Motamedi has stated that the current Iranian mobile phone network, providing connection to 3.5 million subscribers in a country of 70 million, lags 10 years behind the rest of the world in updating its technology.
"Bridging this gap in the short-term through traditional methods is certainly impossible," he says.
According to the communications minister, the Irancell deal, better known as the Second Operator in Iran, is 'one of the solutions to overcome this problem'.
"A simple estimate indicates that if we rely on the capability of the First Operator, given the 25-fold increase in the country's capacity, it will take between eight and ten years to meet the existing demands (for mobile phones)," Motamedi says.
Next year, 2.5 million new lines will be added to the network, according to the minister.
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