By a Special Correspondent
ROME-TEHRAN 25 June (IPS) An open letter published Sunday in newspapers in Tehran might have stopped Mr. Vittorio Mincato, Chairman of Italy's giant oil and gas firm ENI not to go to Iran for the time being, according to informed sources.
Experts from Iranian oil industries in the oil-rich Province of Khouzestan denounced in the letter the agreements passed recently between the Iranian Oil Ministry and the Italian conglomerate for the exploration and development of Darkhovein oil fields, worth one billion US Dollars.
In their letter, the angry Iranian oil experts said the development of Darkhovein oil fields was awarded to ENI for a billion of Us Dollars against grafts and commissions, as the same work could well be fulfilled by Iranian companies for much cheaper.
Mr. Mincato was to go to Tehran Saturday to sign the deal, but his visit was postponed without any explanation from either side, with sources at ENI explaining that the delay was caused because of the absence from Tehran of one of the concerned ministers.
But other informed Italian sources said it was the new Italian liberal Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who demanded Mr. Mincato delays his visit to after the next Summit of G-8 in Genoa.
"The Cavaliere does not want jeopardize his relations with the Washington of George W. Bush and prefers to sound his intentions (over the deal with Iran) before deciding whether ENI should sign or not", the source told Iran Press Service.
ENI was unable to confirm a new date for the trip, but said it hoped Mr. Minacto would go soon to Tehran (to finalise the agreement).
This is the second time that the trip has been delayed due to the "unavailability of an Iranian minister", but experts say oil agreements are signed by the Oil Minister, Mr. Bizhan Namdar Zanganeh alone.
The deal was likely to be followed soon after by an investment by Spanish company Cepsa in an oil field called Chasmeh Khosh.
Iranian oil experts both inside and outside Iran seriously contest the accords the authorities in Tehran sign under the "buy-back" formula and charge the government for giving "outrageous advantages" to European firms that accept to develop Iranian oil and gas fields defying US sanctions "just for the sake to demonstrate Iran can resist the American embargo".
The reformist-dominated Majles (parliament) also voiced concern over the agreements and called on the Ministry to shed some lights on the accords signed with all foreign firms, particularly the French TotalFinaElf, the first to challenge the American oil sanctions.
If Mincato finally seals the multi-million dollar agreement after years of negotiations, the deal would make ENI the largest Iranian partner in the development of Iranian oil, as the company is already active in two other Iranian sites.
It will also be a direct test for the kind of response President George W. Bush's would reserve to oil investments in Iran, as former Clinton administration had largely turned a blind eye to violations by foreign firms of the1996 Iran-Libya Act and few expected Bush, a former oilman, to be more robust.