The US is aiming to cut Iran’s crude exports by around another 20% to below one million barrels per day from May by requiring importing countries to reduce purchases to avoid Washington’s sanctions, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on March 13.
“The goal right now is to reduce Iranian oil exports to under one million barrels per day,” one of the sources reportedly said, adding that the Trump administration was concerned that pressing for a complete shutdown of Iran’s oil exports in the short term would trigger a global oil price spike.
Under the heavy sanctions regime introduced by the US against Iran last year, President Donald Trump is targeting an eventual halt to all Iranian oil exports to choke off Tehran’s main source of revenue and drive the Iranians to the table to renegotiate their Middle East activities and policies, including backing provided to various militant proxies across the region.
But given the concern over pushing up oil prices, the US will likely renew 180-day sanctions waivers for most of the eight countries given the exemptions to allow them to continue buying Iranian crude, including the biggest buyers China and India—the other waiver holders are Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Turkey, Greece and Italy. The waiver extensions would be granted in exchange for pledges to cut combined imports of Iranian oil to below 1mn b/d, around 250,000 b/d below Iran’s current exports.
“Zeroing out could prove difficult”
“Zeroing out could prove difficult” one of the sources said, adding a price of around $65 a barrel for international benchmark Brent crude was “the high end of Trump’s crude price comfort zone.”
Brent crude settled at $67.55 a barrel on March 13.
Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative on Iran, also said in remarks at an industry conference in Houston on March 13 that Washington is pursuing its plan to bring Iranian crude exports to zero.
Trump “has made it very clear that we need to have a campaign of maximum economic pressure” on Iran, Hook said, “but he also doesn’t want to shock oil markets.”
It is unclear whether the Trump administration will be able to convince China, India and Turkey—all of whom depend heavily on Iranian oil and have criticised the US sanctions on Iran—to reduce imports.
“India, China and Turkey – the three tough cases – will continue to negotiate with the administration and are likely to keep their waivers,” one of the sources said.
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