Kuwait May Take Row over Gas Field to International Level

Kuwait's energy minister said Sunday that the emirate could take a dispute with neighboring Gulf giant Iran over an offshore gas field to international arbitration if bilateral talks fail.

"We are not looking for an escalation with Iran. There are diplomatic efforts being pursued by the foreign ministry to resolve the border issue," Sheikh Ahmad Fahd al-Sabah told a press conference.

"If no understanding is reached, there are international mechanisms which govern such disputes," including the international court of justice which has ruled on similar disputes, the minister said.

Kuwait however will not exploit the prevailing political situation and the presence of US troops in the region to force a settlement in the Dorra gas field, also shared by Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Ahmad said.

The dispute dates back to the 1960s, when Iran and Kuwait each awarded an offshore concession, the first to the former Anglo-Iranian Petroleum Co., which became part of BP, and the latter to Royal Dutch/Shell.

The two concessions overlapped in the northern part of the field.

Iranian drilling at Dorra in 2001 spurred Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to agree on a maritime border deal which stipulated that the two countries jointly develop the natural resources of the offshore zone.

Sheikh Ahmad said that development projects of oil-rich areas shared with Saudi Arabia, including Dorra, have already begun, side by side with diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute.

Saudi and Kuwait oil companies are carrying out the development projects at the border areas of Khafji and Wafra and offshore zones under them, the minister said. Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh said last month Tehran would not surrender its claim to the Dorra gas field.

He added that Iran's foreign ministry had reached an "understanding" with Kuwait that while the continental shelf between the two states had not been divided, "nothing goes forward."

Tehran last month protested to Kuwait at plans to develop the Dorra.

Kuwait is rich with oil but badly needs the Dorra because it does not have sufficient supplies of natural gas.