Petrobras under US pressure over Iran

The United States is bringing pressure on Petrobras, the Brazilian government-controlled oil group, to scale back its operations in Iran.

Clifford Sobel, the US ambassador in Brasília, reportedly told Sérgio Gabrielli, president of Petrobras, that the US was concerned over the company’s increasing activities in the country. According to an article in daily newspaper Valor Econômico on Friday, he said such activities might “create complications” for Petrobras’s operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Petrobras declined to comment on Friday. Mr Sobel was not immediately available.

NIDC, the Iranian oil company, said last month it had begun exploratory drilling in the Persian Gulf in collaboration with Petrobras and Repsol YPF, the Spanish oil company. It also said it was preparing to sign a $470m contract with Petrobras on exploration and production in the Caspian Sea.

The issue is likely to be raised at a meeting on Saturday between Presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and George W. Bush of the US at Camp David, the US president’s country retreat.

The meeting comes three weeks after Mr Bush’s five-country tour of Latin America, in which he sought to repair damage to the US’s reputation from an increasing wave of anti-Americanism in the region and the rise of “21st century socialism” led by president Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

The Brazilian and US presidents are expected to reaffirm their commitment to joint initiatives on production of ethanol and other green fuels signed in São Paulo during Mr Bush’s visit. Mr Lula da Silva is also expected to push for a revival of the Doha round of world trade talks, suspended since last July. Celso Amorim, Brazil’s foreign minister, was scheduled to meet Susan Schwab, the US trade representative, to discuss trade issues on Friday.

But such issues may be overshadowed by US pressure on Iran. The US government applies severe sanctions to any US companies operating in the country but has resisted pressure from Congress to extend them to foreign companies. Mr Sobel’s reported comments reflect heightening concern over Iran’s insistence on pursuing its nuclear programme.

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