March 19 (UPI) -- French energy company Total should be grandfathered into any deals it has in the Iranian energy sector if Washington tightens the sanctions noose, its CEO said.
CEO Patrick Pouyanné told Emirati newspaper The National that a gas development deal with Iran signed in July is protected from any new U.S. sanctions.
"It's quite simple," he was quoted as saying. "As the project has been awarded prior to that decision during the period of time that we could sign ... we will argue that we should benefit from the grandfather clause and we will ask for a waiver from the U.S. authorities."
The French energy company, under pressure from Washington in the pre-sanctions era, was the source of Iranian frustration after showing a lack of progress in developing parts of the South Pars field in the Persian Gulf. With sanctions pressures easing in the wake of a multilateral nuclear deal reached in 2015, Pouyanne has said that future growth for his company could come from projects in the Islamic republic.
Total was among the first of the major European energy companies moving into the Iranian energy sector by signing memoranda of understanding with its Iranian counterparts. The company has a head of agreement deal with the National Iranian Oil Co. to help develop phase 11 of the South Pars natural gas complex in the Persian Gulf, the largest of its kind in the world.
The U.S. government increased the sanctions pressure on Tehran following missile tests last year and President Donald Trump has threatened to move away from a multilateral nuclear deal that brought sanctions relief to Iran.
Trump unceremoniously dumped Rex Tillerson, his secretary of state, last week. Mike Pompeo, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency who has been tapped to fill Tillerson's shoes, has long been an opponent of the Iranian nuclear agreement, which counts the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany among its signatories. With Tillerson out, and Pompeo in, the nuclear deal may be hanging by a thread.
"If the U.S. decides to put back the sanctions, we have to look at what the consequences are," Pouyanné said.