Iran will continue its efforts to boost crude production and exports regardless of Washington's opposition to increased international sales of Iranian oil, oil minister Bijan Zanganeh said Monday.
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"Iran will use every possibility to increase the amount of oil exports and will not wait for America's permission," Zanganeh was quoted as saying by oil ministry news service Shana.
"The sanctions do not ban Iran from increasing oil production and we have a big plan for increasing Iran's oil production."
As part of an interim agreement on Iran's nuclear program, in force since January, Washington agreed to "pause" efforts to persuade Tehran's six main customers to reduce volumes further. US officials said as the deal came into effect that they expected imports of Iranian crude by the six countries to remain around 1 million b/d.
However, official and trade data show that combined imports of Iranian crude by China, India, Japan and South Korea rose to more than 1.37 million b/d in February from 1.26 million b/d in January. Turkey, which has been importing around 100,000 b/d from Iran in recent months, and Taiwan have yet to release data for February.
Iran's production has slumped in recent years as sanctions cut off investment funding for new projects and advanced technology to arrest output declines at the country's aging oil fields.
Zanganeh, who attracted billions of investment dollars into Iran's upstream during his previous stint as oil minister between 1997 and 2005, returned to the ministry last autumn with a pledge to boost crude production capacity.
"Certainly Iran will increase its oil production capacity in this year and maintain its share in OPEC," Zanganeh said on Monday.
National Iranian Oil Company managing director Rokneddin Javadi said late last week that Iran was currently producing on average around 2.85 million b/d of crude. That figure is close to independent estimates of Iranian output. Tehran told OPEC it pumped 3.26 million b/d in February and 3.25 million b/d in January.
Tehran and the West hope to reach a comprehensive settlement on the nuclear issue that would mean sanctions being lifted. The interim agreement is due to end in July but can be extended for an additional six months.
Zanganeh said the eventual removal of sanctions would speed up Iran's efforts to boost production but added that Tehran did not intend to wait until then to move forward with its plans.
"With [removal] of the sanctions, the work will take on a rapid pace, but this doesn't mean that we will wait around until the sanctions are removed. We will pursue our work," he said.
"We hope the sanctions [will be removed] but we are moving forward on the basis of the sanctions continuing, not on the hypothesis that the sanctions will be removed."
Iran hopes to raise its official 3.85 million b/d crude output capacity to 4 million b/d in the current Iranian year, which started on March 21.