Saudi-Iranian rapprochement challenged by dispute over offshore gas field

Illustrative: This March 16, 2019 file photo shows natural gas refineries at the South Pars gas field on the northern coast of the Persian Gulf, in Asaluyeh, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
Illustrative: This March 16, 2019 file photo shows natural gas refineries at the South Pars gas field on the northern coast of the Persian Gulf, in Asaluyeh, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

An escalating dispute over a gas field in the Persian Gulf poses an early challenge to a Chinese-brokered agreement to reconcile regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saudi Arabia and neighboring Kuwait jointly claim the offshore Al-Durra gas field. Iran says it has rights to the field, which it refers to as Arash. The two sides held talks in Iran in March but were unable to agree on a border demarcation.

Nasser Kanaani, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, says today that it will not tolerate any infringement on its rights, echoing remarks by the country’s oil minister the previous day. Last week, Kuwait’s oil minister told Sky News Arabia that his country would commence drilling and production without waiting for a deal.

Saudi Arabia has sided with Kuwait, saying the two countries have exclusive ownership of the field, and has called on Iran to return to negotiations. Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have backed opposite sides in conflicts across the Middle East and accused each other of destabilizing the region, agreed in March to restore diplomatic relations following a seven-year freeze. They have since reopened embassies and welcomed senior officials on visits.

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