As EU embargo looms, Iran and Saudi Arabia tussle over oil output

As EU embargo looms, Iran and Saudi Arabia tussle over oil output

Tehran seeking to lower production to make embargo felt, while Riyadh is expected to overproduce to make up difference

The OPEC meeting in Vienna on Thursday. (photo credit: AP/Ronald Zak)
The OPEC meeting in Vienna on Thursday. (photo credit: AP/Ronald Zak)

VIENNA (AP) — Iran and Saudi Arabia crossed swords over oil production output on the sidelines of an OPEC meeting in Vienna Thursday.

Iran, facing oil sanctions over Uranium enrichment, came to Vienna for the meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries seeking lowered output to raise prices, while the Saudis were looking to increase production to make crude more affordable.

OPEC oil ministers agreed in the end to keep their production target steady, in a compromise meant to defuse rivalries between Riyadh and Tehran.

On paper the decision to keep output targets steady was meant to find a compromise between the two positions. But OPEC members normally ignore the official quota — the organization’s daily output is now estimated at nearly 32 million barrels.

OPEC Secretary-General Abdullah Al-Badry told reporters that there was a “collective decision” to honor the 30 million barrel ceiling. But the Saudis, and others with capacity, were expected to keep overproducing to make up for any shortfall caused by sanctions on Iranian oil.

Iran, in contrast, is faced with the prospect of having to cut its output of oil, which makes up nearly 80 percent of its foreign exchange earnings. Sanctions levied by the US over Tehran’s refusal to curb its nuclear program have already cut significantly into exports — from about 2.5 million barrels a day last year to between 1.2 and 1.8 million barrels now, according to estimates by U.S. officials. An embargo by the European Union set to go into effect next month will tighten the squeeze.

A Venezuela-proposed protest of the embargo was joined by Iraq, Iran and Algeria, but the calls were rebuffed by the Saudis and Kuwait, among others, according to the Financial Times. The inclusion of Iraq in the camp of hardliners backing Iran was a sign of increasing cooperation between the two on both OPEC and political stances.

The oil-related sanctions are only part of the regime of UN and other international penalties levied against Iran for its refusal to curb uranium enrichment. Tehran says it is enriching only to create reactor fuel and insists it is not interested in atomic arms, but concern remains strong because enrichment to high levels also can produce the core of nuclear weapons.

Iran has cautioned the Saudis not to use the oil weapon against it, and Iranian oil minister Rostam Ghazemi on Wednesday warned the U.S. and Europe that their tactics will backfire.

“The use of instruments such as sanctions or direct military interventions in energy-producing countries will increase the price of oil and market volatility,” he told an OPEC seminar.

On Thursday, he denied that Iran was hurting.

“Our exports remain as before,” he declared, adding that the oil embargo will “not have any negative impact on Iran.”

In another manifestation of their rivalries, both Iran and the Saudis are fielding candidates for the post of OPEC secretary general, to be filled in December when Al-Badry of Libya retires. But Ecuador also is in the race, along with Iraq, and expectations are high that the ministers will opt for Wilson Pastor of Ecuador.

Al-Badry said ministers deferred a decision on his successor to the next planned OPEC meeting in December.

Saudi-Iranian tensions are seen as an embarrassment to OPEC, and Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi refused to answer questions on the issue as he prepared to join the meeting Thursday. But he earlier denied tightening the screws on Iran by selectively providing crude to consumers honoring the Iran embargo, telling reporters his country sells to whoever buys.

“We don’t sit and say: ‘We want to sell to this country or that country (or) whatever,'” he said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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