Nations using oil 'as a weapon' causing damage to OPEC -Iran oil minister

GENEVA (Reuters) - Iran’s oil minister hit out on Wednesday against the use of oil sanctions “as a weapon” by the United States and the damage it was doing to OPEC, according to SHANA, the news outlet of the OPEC member’s oil ministry.

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh talks to journalists at the beginning of an OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

Oil prices hit their highest since November in recent days after Washington said all waivers for those importing sanctions-hit Iranian oil would end this week, pressuring importers to stop buying from Tehran and tightening global supply.

Another OPEC founding member, Venezuela, is also the subject of U.S. sanctions on its oil exports to bring about political and economic change.

“Those who use oil as a weapon against two founding members of OPEC are disturbing the unity of OPEC and creating the death and collapse of OPEC and the responsibility for that is with them,” Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said in a speech at an oil and gas conference in Tehran.

The United States has demanded that buyers of Iranian oil stop purchases by May 1 or face sanctions, ending six months of waivers that had allowed Iran’s eight biggest customers, most of them in Asia, to import limited volumes.

Oil markets had tightened this year due to supply cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the White House said after its Iran move it was working with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to ensure oil markets were “adequately supplied”.

America will not, however, be able to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero and the Islamic Republic’s neighbors are exaggerating claims of their oil production capacity that could make up for any shortfall, Zanganeh said, according to the Mehr news agency.

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Iran would not leave OPEC though, Masoud Karbasian, the chief executive of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) said on Wednesday, according to SHANA.

Iran is examining new ways to sell its oil, Zanganeh said, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). He did not provide details.

Iran’s oil industry was standing up to the pressure from U.S. sanctions, Ahmad Mohammadi, the head of the National Iranian South Oil Company (NISOC) said on Wednesday, according to SHANA.

NISOC is currently producing 3.5 million barrels of oil per day and there are plans underway to increase that by approximately 600,0000 barrels per day, Mohammadi said.

Separately, Zanganeh said that Iran’s gas output will cross 1,000 million cubic meters (mcm) this calendar year, the oil ministry reported on its Twitter account.

It did not specify whether Zanganeh was referring to the year 2019 or the Iranian calendar year which ends in March 2020.

The U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran in November to curtail its nuclear program and stop backing militant proxies across the Middle East.

OPEC and its allies next meet in June to decide on any supply changes. The producer group’s supply cuts have been aimed largely at offsetting record crude production in the United States.

Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; editing by Jason Neely and Elaine Hardcastle