Irritated US to protest Austria-Iran gas deal

Irritated by the prospect of a huge European gas development deal with Iran, the Bush administration said Monday it will argue that such transactions undercut international bargaining power with Iran over its nuclear program. Also Monday, the State Department said it again has asked Iran for information about a missing former FBI agent. The United States says it has no information to substantiate reports that Iran may be detaining the man, but spokesmen do not rule out the possibility. Austria's OMV energy company and Iranian officials announced a preliminary agreement to develop Iran's Pars gas fields. The agreement announced during the weekend also could open the way for a deal to build a liquifying plant for Iranian natural gas. The deal would not violate any United Nations sanctions, and the United States cannot block it outright. "We question whether or not this is the right time to be handing the Iranians those kind of, at the very least, public relations victories," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.