April 18 (UPI) -- Iran and Russia, two oil producers that are the target of U.S. sanctions, could establish a solid partnership in the energy sector, Iran's oil minister said.
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh said a new relationship is forming with Russia's state-owned exploration and production company Zarubezhneft. Under the terms of a new petroleum contract, the minister said both sides would work to enhance the oil recovery from fields in the west of the country.
"For the first time, a renowned Russian company is helping develop Iranian oil fields," the minister was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying.
Russian energy company Gazprom Neft signed a memorandum of understanding last year with Iran's Oil Industries' Engineering & Construction firm. The agreement confirmed the mutual interest in combining forces in the preliminary assessment and investigation of the geological potential of oil fields in Iran.
That memorandum, signed last year, came as both sides faced pressure from U.S. lawmakers. In July, the U.S. House of Representatives, in a 419-3 vote, opted to toughen sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia. House Speaker Paul Ryan said the measure "tightens the screws on our most dangerous adversaries."
Russian officials and energy company representatives have been under pressure from U.S. lawmakers for meddling in elections last year, an accusation the Kremlin denies. Next month, U.S. President Donald Trump could break the terms of a multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran by denying a sanctions waiver.
Zangeneh said new agreement with Russian partners could yield another 67 million barrels from two western oil fields. At today's price for Brent crude oil, that would yield more than $4.5 billion in Iranian revenue if sold on the open market.
The minister added that negotiations were already underway with big Russian oil producers like Lukoil and Gazprom Neft, the petroleum arm of Russian major Gazprom.
The U.S. Treasury Department took further action against Russia with sanctions extending to people associated with Russian energy company Gazprom in early April. The action was in response to the alleged use of a nerve agent against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Russian Energy Minister Novak said the sanctions wouldn't impact the Russian energy sector or "other interactions."