Battle for Libyan oil
by Brian Denny Tensions between imperialist rivals Germany and the United States have heightened over the control of oil fields in Libya. A German company is seeking permission from Tripoli to drill in oil fields that formerly belonged to US oil corporations Conoco, Marathon Oil and Amerada Hess, whose operations were frozen by US sanctions. The properties have not been operated by US firms since 1986, when Washington banned US companies from doing business in Libya. The approach by German firm Winterhall is a major escalation in a fight between US and Europe over sanctions. Key US Senators have already warned Germany that relations with Washington could suffer if a German firm reaches a deal to buy US-owned oil deposits in Libya. Far-right Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms told German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer that such a purchase could harm US- German relations by triggering sanctions under the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA). The Sanctions Act was enacted in 1996 to discourage foreign energy firms from making investments in Iran and Libya. It gives the US President the authority to limit the ability of countries which violate the law to export goods to the US. Mr Helms made it clear to Mr Fischer that a deal between Wintershall and Libya could lead to sanctions. However, German government sources in Washington have responded by pointing out that the European Union does not recognise ILSA. ILSA expires on August 5 and some members of Congress are aggressively seeking support for new legislation that would extend the law for another five years. However, the administration of President George W Bush, which is close to oil corporations, opposes the extension of existing sanctions on Iran and Libya and is expected to put forward a proposal for alternative sanctions. In a sign that US oil companies are getting impatient, Conoco chief executive officer Archie Dunham said that Libya's national oil company appeared to favour selling the oilfields. "I think that there are probably segments of the management of the Libyan national oil company that are frustrated with the lack of action by the United States Government on lifting the unilateral sanctions", he said. Infuriating Washington further, Germany has also strengthened relations with oil-rich Iran in a move to secure energy resources in the future. This fact has not been lost on the US oil giants who are still locked out of the Iranian energy market by their own government. Mr Dunham said that Conoco, the forth-largest US oil company, was especially keen to play a role in the development of Iran's huge Azadegan oil field which has estimated reserves of five to six billion barrels of oil. These inter-imperial rivalries will amuse both the Libyans and the Iranians and may even lead to an end of the current US sanctions regime and the normalisation of trade relations. While Mr Bush wants to act tough in the new world order, his corporate masters may force him to dance to another tune if it is in their financial interests.