London, May 5, IRNA-Shell insisted Thursday that it was unable to comment on reports that it had backed out of a Dlrs 4.4 billion deal to sell a major Dutch chemical business to Iran because of US pressure.
"The process is subject to commercial confidentiality. We cannot comment," a Shell spokeswoman told IRNA with regard to the bid by Iran's National Petrochemical Company (NPC) bid for Basell, which the Anglo-Dutch company joint owns with Germany's Basf.
She insisted that a decision had not yet been made on the sale of the world's largest producer of plastic polypropylene but reports suggested that NPC's planned purchase had been blocked by Shell for fear of damaging its extensive US interests.
The spokeswoman confirmed that a decision would be made jointly with Basf and that Shell remained hopeful of meeting its timetable of selling the business in the first half of 2005 as part of its restructuring strategy to dispose of Dlrs 15 bn worth of assets.
"Obviously we make the decision with Basf but again we can't talk about what discussions we have had on selling the joint venture," she said.
According to the Financial Times Thursday, Access Industries, controlled by Russian billionaire Leonard Blvatnik, was close to acquiring Basell in an alternative deal with Haldia Petrochemicals of India.
The report of the apparent u-turn by Shell comes after BP chief executive Lord Browne provoked controversy earlier this year when he said it was "impractical" for his company to invest in Iran "because 40 per cent of BP is in the US." The pressure on the British firms comes despite the EU winning a waiver to US threats to impose extraterritorial sanctions against European companies investing in Iran's oil industry during Clinton Administration.
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