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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. to Probe Gazprom Over Iran Gas Project

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration is sending legal experts to Russia, France and Malaysia to investigate whether a $2 billion deal to help Iran develop its natural gas reserves violates U.S. law.

Russian gas monopoly Gazprom holds a 30 percent stake in the project along with Total Oil Group of France, which holds 40 percent, and Petronas, a Malaysian company that holds the remaining 30 percent stake.

The United States wants to make sure any sanctions it might impose against three foreign companies involved in the deal will stand up to a promised court challenge, State Department spokesman James Rubin said Monday. He said legal scrutiny of the contracts could take some time.

"We are actively investigating this case to determine whether sanctionable activity has occurred,'' Rubin said. "I'm not going to anticipate the results of our review or speculate about what decisions we will make.''

A 1996 U.S. law mandates punitive trade measures against any company that invests more than $40 million a year in the energy sectors of either Iran or Libya, which the United States considers terrorist states. The European Union asked the U.S. government Monday to stay out of the affair.

Members of the European Union have threatened to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization if the United States tries to impose such sanctions.

At a meeting Monday at Luxembourg, EU trade chief Leon Brittan warned the United States that "meddling'' in European trade affairs could lead to counter-sanctions and the 15 EU nations unanimously backed the deal.

Brittan said the EU would take the case to the WTO by Oct. 15 unless there was substantial progress on resolving the dispute.

"The Americans are entitled to disagree with us,'' said Brittan. "What they are not entitled to do is to impose their will.''