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Iran's new administration is set to invite international companies for talks as it looks to mitigate the effects of Western sanctions that have damaged the country's energy sector, a senior oil ministry official in charge of international affairs was reported as saying Monday.

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"Given the establishment of the new government and the positions taken by the President [Hassan Rowhani], our approach towards the international arena has majorly changed," Mansour Moazami, caretaker deputy minister for international and commercial affairs, was quoted as saying by oil ministry news service Shana.

The moderate cleric Rowhani, who set up his cabinet August 15, was elected Iran's president in mid-June based on a promise of reviving Tehran's relations with the West, whose companies have abandoned Iran's oil and gas projects to avoid punitive measures under the international sanctions introduced against the country because of its controversial nuclear program.

"We are making efforts to expand cooperation and negotiations on an international level in order to use global possibilities maximally," said Moazami, who was appointed to the post last Tuesday as part of the first set of management changes under the administration of oil minister Bijan Zanganeh.

The sanctions have tightened Iran's access to its oil incomes as well as advanced technology. Thus, the country has been relying on own resources, which have not been able to make up for the absence of companies such as Shell, Total, Spain's Repsol, Japan's Inpex, Russia's Gazprom, Malaysia's Petronas, Austria's OMV, Norway's Statoil and many more that had deals and agreements with Iran to develop its untapped hydrocarbon reserves.

The appearance of these big names coincided with Zanganeh's former stint as Iran's oil minister (1997-2005) under the reformist president Mohammad Khatami. Zanganeh, under whom billions of dollars in foreign investment was secured, has put on Iran's agenda the adoption of an "oil diplomacy" to boost the OPEC producer's crude production and sales in the face of the sanctions.

Moazami said the oil ministry "should welcome the companies that were cooperating with us in the past."

"Therefore, reputable international companies will be invited for talks and investment in Iran's oil industry with preservation of the two sides' interests," he said.

The oil ministry official criticized the sanctions as "the worst, the most unfair and shameless ones in their own type."

"They [the sanctions] have caused problems for Iranian people and at the same time our [foreign] partners were troubled as well," Moazami said.

"We are trying to lower the effects of the sanctions," he stressed.

--Aresu Eqbali,
--Edited by Alisdair Bowles,