Iran will suspend all oil exports, pushing global crude prices higher, if the U.S. and Europe tighten sanctions further on the OPEC member’s economy, Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi warned.
“If you continue to add to the sanctions, we will stop our oil exports to the world,” he said at a news conference in Dubai. “The lack of Iranian oil in the market would drastically add to the price.”
Iran wants “reasonable” prices for crude and doesn’t seek an increase, he said earlier today. Brent crude for December settlement was $1.09 lower at $108.35 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange at 2:36 p.m. local time. Prices for the grade have risen 11 percent since the European Union banned purchases of Iranian crude on July 1.
Iran’s oil exports have dwindled in the face of U.S. and EU sanctions on its energy and financial industries. The International Energy Agency, which advises the world’s biggest industrialized economies, reported that Iranian shipments slumped to 860,000 barrels a day in September from 1.1 million barrels in August. About 40 percent of Iran’s exports last month were destined for China, according to tanker-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.
A unilateral halt in Iran’s oil sales would be “extremely unlikely,” said Robin Mills, head of consulting at Dubai-based Manaar Energy Consulting and Project Management.
“That would be suicide for them, and the U.S. would say, ‘Great. They’re sanctioning themselves,’” he said in a telephone interview. Qasemi’s threat was a possible sign of the Tehran government’s desperation, said Mills, a former Iran specialist at Royal Dutch Shell Plc.
“If you’re talking about something like 800,000 barrels a day of exports, the oil market can live without it, but the Iranians can’t,” he said, adding that the drop in crude prices suggested markets don’t believe the threat is serious.
Qasemi declined to say how much crude his nation is exporting now. Iran has a plan for functioning without oil revenue, he said, without elaborating. Qasemi blamed “belligerent” policies for tightening global energy supply, speaking earlier at an international conference, and said restrictions on Iran affect consumers.
Oil sales generated half of Iran’s official revenues, and crude and refined products together accounted for almost 80 percent of the country’s total exports, according to a U.S. Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration report last November.
The Persian Gulf nation, formerly the second-biggest producer among the 12 members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, has slipped to fourth place, behind Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait, data gathered by Bloomberg show. OPEC states no longer have individual production quotas since the group has agreed only to a collective supply target, which members have been exceeding by about 2 million barrels a day for many months.
The Islamic republic is pumping 4 million barrels a day, most of it for domestic consumption, Qasemi said. His output figure differs from data compiled by Bloomberg showing that Iran produced an average of 2.85 million barrels a day in September.
Simon Wardell, an energy researcher at Global Insight Inc., a London-based consultant, said he’d be surprised if Iran followed through on Qasemi’s export warning.
“I suspect this is just an attempt to try and drive the price a little bit higher again in order to maximize the oil revenue, but it would be ultimately self-defeating,” Wardell said in a phone interview. “It does indicate that they are under quite a bit of pressure.”
Iran has historically sought higher oil prices, in contrast to Saudi Arabia, which has tried to keep them at more attractive levels for consuming nations. Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest producer in OPEC, pumping 9.8 million barrels a day last month, according to the Paris-based IEA.
Qasemi said his country plans to invest $100 billion in energy projects over four years and pressed for “non-political investment” in such resources.
Iran supports its candidate, Gholamhossein Nozari, in a four-way contest for the position of secretary-general of OPEC, he said. Governors of the group’s members are meeting at OPEC’s Vienna headquarters this week to select a new secretary-general for the first time in six years, with Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Ecuador also fielding candidates.
Iran faces international sanctions because of its nuclear program, which the U.S. and allied nations say may be aimed at developing weapons technology. The Iranian government counters that it wants nuclear energy only for non-military use.