The New York Times is defending its decision to host a senior Iranian oil ministry official for a major conference being held this year in London, according to a statement from the paper’s spokesperson.
The Times came under fire over the weekend when it was revealed that Seyed Mehdi Hosseini, chair of the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum Oil Contract Restructuring Committee, would be a featured guest at the Times’ Oil and Money Conference, an annual event held for business VIPs in London.
"Oil & Money 2015 is delighted to announced the H.E. Seyed Mehdi Hosseini … will [be] attending in person on Day 1 of the conference to address" questions about Iran’s reentry into the global oil economy, the invite states.
Hosseini is also slated to address potential risks associated with investing in Iran’s oil sector and how open the Iranian markets will be to "foreign investors."
Selling access to a top Iranian oil official could appear controversial, according to Smarter Times, given the Islamic Republic’s support for terrorism and its continued imprisonment of several Americans.
Iran stands to profit greatly from increased oil revenues and sanctions relief provided under the recent nuclear deal.
"The news that the Times is selling $4,000 tickets for face time with Iranian oil decision makers at a fancy London hotel is likely to trigger criticism at a moment when a reporter of the Washington Post, Jason Rezaian, is languishing in a Tehran prison where conditions are known to be considerably harsher than at the Park Lane," wrote Ira Stoll at Smarter Times. "Even advocates of the Iranian nuclear deal such as President Obama have acknowledged the "likelihood" that Tehran will use some of its post-sanctions-relief revenue to fund terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and regional military adventurism."
When asked to address the criticism on Monday, Eileen Murphy, aTimes spokesperson, defended Hosseini’s participation in the conference, calling it "natural."
"The recent multi-national agreement reached with Iran and the potential of international sanctions being lifted is a timely topic for attendees," Murphy said. "Engaging with a representative from the Iranian Oil Ministry is a natural fit for this audience."
"The Oil and Money conference is an annual event co-hosted by Energy Intelligence and the International New York Times for oil industry professionals that began in 1980," she added. "Like many business conferences, it is an on-the-record event in which attending delegates and members of the media can ask questions of the speakers."
In an invitation to the event being circulated to interested parties, the Times touts the access to Hosseini.
"The historic nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers paves the way for Iran’s return global markets," it states before posing several questions that could be answered at the forum.
"What are the potential pitfalls in the deal’s implementation? How attractive will Iran’s upstream contract terms be? What is the likely timing for increased oil exports? How well-placed are European, Asian and US oil companies?" the Times asks.
Top U.S. companies are sponsoring the conference. These include Chevron, ExxonMobil, and the Carlyle Group, according to Smarter Times.