Iran envoy picked to lead natural gas group as Tehran looks beyond sanctions-hit oil exports

TEHRAN, Iran – A former head of Iran’s central bank was elected Sunday to head a 13-nation bloc of gas-producing countries as Tehran looks beyond its sanctions-hit crude oil sales to bring in vital revenue and explore new energy markets.

Iran has looked to its vast natural gas reserves and refined petrochemical products to bypass U.S.-led sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program. The sanctions have concentrated on Iran’s oil exports — cutting them in half over the past two years — and other measures such as blocking access to international banking networks.

Iran has sought to ease the sanctions through nuclear talks with world powers, which resumed last month amid groundbreaking diplomatic overtures between Washington and Tehran. The next round of negotiations is scheduled to begin Thursday.

The presidency of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum does not carry the same clout as leading the oil cartel OPEC because of intense rivalries and policy disagreements among its members. But it comes as Iran tries to retool its export economy. Iran has the world’s second-biggest gas reserves after Russia, but has relatively small exports. It instead has concentrated on the massive domestic market.

A former central bank chief and veteran diplomat, Mohammad Hossein Adeli, was chosen as the group’s president through 2015, Iranian state television reported. The bloc includes major gas exporters Russia and Qatar, as well as Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Other members are in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America.

Iran produces some 550 million cubic meters of gas per day. Less than 10 per cent is exported, mainly to neighbouring Turkey and Armenia. Iran plans to export more gas to Iraq and Pakistan in the future.