US: NO ADVICE YET TO ALBRIGHT ON IRAN

US: NO ADVICE YET TO ALBRIGHT ON IRAN

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has received no recommendation on whether to impose sanctions against three foreign companies for investing in Iran's energy sector, the State Department said Monday.

It described as ''absolutely untrue'' a Financial Times report Monday that Ms. Albright had indicated to European Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan that Washington might grant European firms a sanctions waiver before or during a U.S.-European Union summit next week.Since last year, the department has been reviewing whether a $2 billion deal struck by France's Total, Russia's Gazprom and Malaysia's Petronas to develop a major Iranian oil field violates U.S. law.

The U.S. Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) punishes companies investing more than $20 million a year in the oil or gas industries in those two countries.

''Secretary Albright has not received a recommendation yet on this subject,'' department spokesman James Rubin said. But he reiterated a U.S. statement last week that a decision was close.

''It is certainly true that we are nearing a decision on that and that we have been consulting with European governments, including this past weekend in London, about policies toward Iran and related issues,'' Mr. Rubin said.

Commenting on the newspaper report, he quoted Mr. Brittan as telling U.S. Under Secretary of State Stuart Eizenstat ''that neither I nor anyone on my behalf said to The Financial Times' reporter that Secretary Albright gave the indications to me as cited in that article.''

Sir Leon ''added that - quote - 'She did not say that to me' - unquote,'' Mr. Rubin told a news briefing.

In Brussels, U.S. officials said Monday that they and European Union officials were holding intensive talks to try to solve the sanctions dispute before next Monday's summit in London, but still faced difficult problems.

One move that should go some way to meeting U.S. concerns over Iran and Libya, which motivated ILSA, is a planned joint statement at the summit on combating terrorism and countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

But the administration is under heavy pressure at home. Influential U.S. senators urged President Clinton last Friday to impose sanctions against the three companies investing in Iran's South Pars field.

Formally, the recommendation to Ms. Albright on what to do will come from State Department officials, including Mr. Eizenstat and Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering. But because of the political sensitivity of the issue, the real decision is expected to come from the White House.