Talks over the oil-rich area of Rockall are to take place in Dublin on 9 January.

The talks between four countries are being set up in the hope that negotiations will edge closer to an agreement in a dispute over territorial rights to a massive oil-rich area in the north Atlantic.

Irish diplomats secured a template for a deal when officials from Ireland, Britain, Denmark and Iceland met in Copenhagen last month in the latest round of negotiations on the division of the Rockall basin.

It is understood Iceland is reluctant to agree to the compromise but Britain and Denmark, which claims rights to Rockall through its dependency on the Faroe Islands, have both voiced support.

Negotiations between the four countries on the potential deal will take place on 8 January and Dermot Ahern, Minister for Foreign Affairs, has said he was confident major progress could be made.

Officially known as the Rockall-Hatton basin, the vast area lies around 200 miles from the north-west of Ireland, the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland and the southern coast of Iceland.

It covers 162,935 sq miles - about five times the size of Ireland - and is believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits.

Rockall island is a virtually inaccessible pudding shaped rock 110ft across and rises 63ft out of the Atlantic.

Under a new United Nations treaty, states will be allowed to claim a greater share of the ocean floor if they can show an undisputed direct link with their own land mass, but they must apply before a 2009 closing date.

It is understood a final deal is not likely to be agreed at the Dublin meeting.

The Rockall meetings, which have been going on for five years, are part of wider moves by countries to lay claim to vast areas of the ocean in the search for new reserves of hydrocarbons and minerals.

Each of the four countries is keen to safeguard its rights over the rich seabed surrounding the rock.

Ireland has already lodged a joint application, along with France, Spain and the UK, for a 60,000 sq km plot straddling the Celtic Sea and the Bay of Biscay.