LONDON (AFX) – Royal Dutch/Shell Group said it is at present not planning to bid for the massive Azadegan project in Iran. Azadegan, located in southern Iran, is considered to be the country’s biggest oil field with potential reserves of around 26 billion barrels of crude oil.

A Shell spokesman said the group, which serves as a consultant to the Japanese consortium developing the field, has no intention of acquiring a stake in the project at the moment.

“The Japanese consortium will first have to negotiate and sign an agreement with the National Iranian Oil Co before they can nominate their partners. Only then will we consider whether or not to join them,” he said.

A team of Japanese companies, including Tomen Corp, Japanese Petroleum Exploration Co and Inpex Corp, won the preferential rights to develop the field in November 2000.

But the conclusion of the contract has been delayed, mainly due to Japan’s fear that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. The US is also said to be exerting pressure on Tokyo to go slow on the discussions on the US$2.8 billion project.

A meeting regarding the project was held in Tehran on Sept 16.

“Shell did not attend that meeting,” the spokesman added.

Japanese newspaper Daily Yomiuri reported that the Iranian government, frustrated by the delays in the talks with the Japanese consortium, is planning to invite Shell, France’s Total, China’s Sinopec Corp, and other several major oil companies to develop the field.

Quoting sources, the newspaper said Tehran has “unofficially” notified Tokyo that it will not be invited to join the fresh tender for the project.