Iran has warned France it is prepared to go ahead with a major gas project with Total using Iranian firms alone if the French oil giant gives in to political pressure and does not swiftly implement the deal.

‘I have a message for French President (Nicolas) Sarkozy,’ Caretaker Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari told reporters late yesterday. ‘If Total does not come here, right here, the Pars LNG contracts will be handed over to capable Iranian hands for them to carry out,’ he said.

Under a deal agreed in 2006, Total is slated to exploit the phase 11 of Iran’s giant South Pars gas field to produce liquefied natural gas (LNG) for export and to build a liquefaction plant.

However the final implementation of the deal has been held up by a wrangle over prices, with Iran claiming the French price for the exploitation is too high and Paris saying costs have sky-rocketed since it was agreed.