Iran sticking point as deal agreed on oil output levels
Top oil exporters Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed yesterday to freeze output levels but said the deal was contingent on other producers joining in - a major sticking point with Iran absent from the talks and determined to raise production.
The Saudi, Russian, Qatari and Venezuelan oil ministers announced the proposal after a previously undisclosed meeting in Doha.
It could become the first joint OPEC and non-OPEC deal in 15 years, aimed at tackling a growing oversupply of crude and helping prices recover from their lowest in over a decade.
Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said freezing production at January levels - near record highs - was an adequate measure and he hoped other producers would adopt the plan.
Venezuelan Oil Minister Eulogio Del Pino said more talks would take place with Iran and Iraq today in Tehran.
"The reason we agreed to a potential freeze of production is simple: it is the beginning of a process which we will assess in the next few months and decide if we need other steps to stabilise and improve the market," Mr Naimi told reporters.
"We don't want significant gyrations in prices, we don't want reduction in supply, we want to meet demand, we want a stable oil price. We have to take a step at a time," he said.
Oil prices jumped to $35.55 per barrel after the news about the secret meeting but later pared gains to trade near $33 on concerns that Iran may reject the deal and that even if Tehran agreed it would not help ease the growing global glut.
OPEC member Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional arch rival, has pledged to steeply increase output in the coming months as it looks to regain market share lost after years of international sanctions. Those sanctions were lifted in January following a deal with world powers over its nuclear programme.
"Our situation is totally different to those countries that have been producing at high levels for the past few years," a senior source familiar with Iran's thinking told Reuters.
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh also indicated Tehran would not agree to freezing its output at January levels, saying the country would not give up its appropriate share of the global oil market.
The fact that output from OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC Russia - the world's two top producers and exporters - is near record highs complicates any agreement since Iran is producing at least 1 million barrels per day below its capacity and pre-sanctions levels. (Reuters)