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Iran dims hopes for deal on oil freeze this week

Published:Wednesday | September 28, 2016 | 12:00 AM


Iran played down hopes Tuesday that a deal to limit oil production will emerge this week in a meeting in Algeria, prompting big falls in oil prices.

Speaking in Algiers at a meeting of oil-producing countries, Iranian Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said an informal gathering of OPEC ministers on Wednesday is "just a consultation meeting ... If there is a decision, it should be taken at the next (OPEC) meeting in Vienna in November."

In the wake of his comments, the United States contract for crude oil was down US$1.29, or about 2.8 per cent, at US$44.64 a barrel, having traded roughly flat earlier in the day. Brent, the international standard, was down US$1.31, or 2.8 per cent, at US$46.04 a barrel.

Iran is likely to play a pivotal role in any decision by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to limit production in an attempt to get oil prices higher. The country has sharply increased output since international sanctions over its nuclear programme were lifted earlier this year as it looks to recover market share.

Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil producer and Iran's rival within OPEC, appears to be more amenable to some sort of production limit, certainly more so than in April when OPEC failed to agree on measures to curb supplies.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih promised to "support any decision aimed at stabilising the market".

Oil prices are far lower than where they were a couple of years ago. After shooting up to over US$100 a barrel in mid-2014, they began a slide down to below US$30 at the start of this year.

A number of factors have weighed on prices, including worries over the scale of the economic slowdown in China. High supply levels from OPEC countries, notably Saudi Arabia, as they seemingly strove to drive US shale gas producers out of business, were also central to the descent.

Though low oil prices have certainly driven many out of business, they are hurting the finances of all producers, notably the likes of Venezuela and Nigeria.

One potential ally for Saudi Arabia is Russia, the world's number two producer. Earlier this month the pair said they would act together to stabilise global oil output. Details though remain vague.

Russia is not an OPEC member but the country's energy minister, Alexander Novak, is in Algiers for the meeting of oil producers. He said he will meet with his Iranian counterpart to discuss "potential coordination and actions on the market," according to the Tass news agency.

Despite shrinking hopes for a deal on freezing output levels, Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal urged participants to overcome their differences to reach a "balanced price". And Algerian Energy Minister Noureddine Bouterfa remains optimistic.

"The leaders of OPEC are aware of the fact that the current situation is no good for anyone. We are confident there will be an accord tomorrow," he told The Associated Press.

- AP