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US committed to zeroing out Iranian crude exports: State official

Washington — With US sanctions waivers set to expire early next month, a State Department official said Tuesday that the US remained committed to "zeroing out" Iranian crude oil exports, claiming that global oil market conditions this year better allow for a "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran.

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"With oil prices actually lower than they were when we announced our sanctions and global production stable, we are on the fast track to zeroing out all purchases of Iranian crude," Brian Hook, the US State Department's special representative for Iran, told reporters.

In November, the US granted waivers, or significant reduction exemptions, from reimposed US sanctions to eight of Iran's biggest oil buyers. Three of those buyers have reduced their purchases of Iranian crude to zero, Hook said, adding that US sanctions on Iranian oil exports have taken roughly 1.5 million b/d off the global market since May 2018.

Iran's crude and condensate exports, which averaged about 2.5 million b/d in June fell to just over 1 million b/d in November, but recovered to about 1.51 million b/d in February, according to data from shipping sources and provisional tanker tracking data that S&P Global Platts compiled.

Hook gave no indication if any of the waivers would be renewed. The waivers are set to expire May 2.

"We are not looking to grant any exceptions to our campaign of maximum economic pressure," Hook said.

He said the waivers were granted in 2018 when the oil market was tighter, indicating that it may now be easier to weaken or drop waivers with supply exceeding demand.

"That creates much better conditions for us to accelerate our path to zero," Hook said.

Analysts expect the US in early May to extend expiring sanctions waivers to at least four of Iran's top crude and condensate buyers, but will require purchases to be reduced another 20%, causing Iranian exports to dip below 800,000 b/d within a month, according to an S&P Global Platts survey.

The Trump administration is expected to allow China, India, South Korea and Turkey to continue to import Iranian crude and condensate for another six months, while letting waivers for Italy, Greece, Japan and Taiwan expire in early May, according to the survey, which polled a dozen analysts who closely track Iranian oil sanctions policy.

-- Brian Scheid, brian.scheid@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Valarie Jackson, newsdesk@spglobal.com