Hotly pursued junior iron ore Atlas Iron has responded to calls from Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group to clarify its position regarding the development of crucial port infrastructure in the Pilbara.

The call comes after Atlas (ASX:AGO) was told by the West Australian government that it did not have a “priority right” to develop Stanley Point Berths 3 and 4 at Port Hedland.

Atlas said at the time it announced the news that it was told the berths were set aside for junior miners.

The company is part of a joint venture known as North West Infrastructure (NWI) that wants to build a port facility capable of exporting 50 million tonnes of iron ore each year from the South-West Creek location in the Inner Harbour at Port Hedland.

The West Australian government made the 50-million-tonne-per-annum allocation to support the development plans of emerging iron ore miners in the Pilbara region.

Fortescue (ASX:FMG) said in a statement published on its website yesterday that it believes “further clarity is needed on the position of Atlas in relation to these assets”.

The company, which holds a 19.9 per cent stake in Atlas, added that it is continuing to assess its options regarding its shareholding.

In response, Atlas pointed to recent comments made by West Australian Premier Mark McGowan in the media indicating that the state government had not ruled out a compromise on its “junior miner” policy if an iron ore major emerges as an owner of Atlas.

“Atlas notes that in any event, the shareholders of NWI remain in aggregate the owners of the largest undeveloped Pilbara resources, other than existing major producers,” the company told investors this morning.

Atlas has been the subject of a three-way battle for control of the struggling iron ore producer.

Mineral Resources (ASX:MIN) was the first to make a play for the junior, but bowed out when it decided it couldn’t match Gina Rinehart’s 40 per cent better all-cash offer.

Fortescue has not yet made a bid for Atlas, but it previously raised its stake in the company to block the MinRes bid and this week called on the Takeovers Panel to intervene in Hancock Prospecting’s play for the company.

The activity sent Atlas’ share price up 142 per cent to a 52-week high of 4.6c earlier in June. Atlas shares were trading at 4.3c on Thursday morning.

Fortescue’s interest in Atlas lies in the development of the additional berths at Port Hedland, but industry commentators don’t see the company tabling a takeover offer.

“I think ultimately Fortescue are just wanting to make sure things that get developed, projects that move forward in the Pilbara that could impact their business, they get at least a seat at the table in discussing how those projects move forward,” UBS analyst Glyn Lawcock told Stockhead.

“So I think their initial stake … provides them with a seat at the table and I think right now they’re looking to see where that goes to from here. I don’t think they want to own Atlas.”