Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will develop a disputed gas field despite Iranian objections while urging Tehran to engage in negotiations.
The Gulf allies will honour their deal – branded “illegal” by Iran – to develop the Arash/Dorra maritime gas field, the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Saudi Arabia and … Kuwait affirm their right to exploit the natural resources in this area and that they will continue working to enforce what was agreed upon,” it said.
But the two countries also issued a new invitation for Iran to negotiate over the boundary of the gas field, the subject of a dispute that goes back decades.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Kuwait, as a single negotiating party, renew their invitation to the Islamic Republic of Iran to hold these negotiations,” the statement said.
Tehran in late March said the deal contravened “previously held negotiations”, adding it “reserves its right to exploit” the field.
The dust-up comes as energy prices remain high in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The row over the field dates back to the 1960s, when Iran and Kuwait each awarded an offshore concession, one to the former Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the forerunner to BP, and one to Royal Dutch Shell.
The two concessions overlapped in the northern part of the field, whose recoverable reserves are estimated at some 220 billion cubic metres (seven trillion cubic feet).
Iran and Kuwait have held unsuccessful talks for many years over their disputed maritime border area, which is rich in natural gas.
Iranian drilling of the field in 2001 spurred Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to agree on a maritime border deal, which stipulated they jointly develop the natural resources of the offshore zone.
Kuwait said in March the field was expected to produce one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, with 84,000 barrels of condensate daily.
A news outlet affiliated with Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) reported last month that Iran unilaterally suspended talks with regional rival Saudi Arabia without citing the reason.
Riyadh and Tehran have said they hope the discussions can ease years of tensions, but have downplayed expectations of a significant breakthrough.
The two countries ended diplomatic ties in 2016 when Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran was stormed by protesters following the execution of a prominent Shia religious leader by the Sunni-majority kingdom.
Riyadh supported then-United States President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign of harsh sanctions on Iran after his unilateral withdrawal from the country’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. It also blamed Iran for a major attack on its oil facilities in 2019, an allegation Tehran denied.
The two countries also stand on opposite sides in the war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been fighting against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement since 2014.
The first round of secret talks, which was held in Iraq’s capital in April 2020, had signalled a potential thaw between Iran and Saudi Arabia.