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Perry says US not considering easing Iran sanctions

IEA chief sees Iran exporting 200,000 b/d, but more moving illictly

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry will meet Monday with new Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Perry said Friday.

During a news conference, Perry said the two will discuss the US-Saudi civil nuclear cooperation accord, known as the 123 agreement. Last year, several US lawmakers had urged the Trump administration to suspend negotiations of that agreement following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Abdulaziz, the half-brother of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was named energy minister last week, replacing Khalid al-Falih. Perry said he had met previously with Abdulaziz, who served as deputy to longtime Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi.

Perry did not comment further on the meeting, but the two are likely to discuss US sanctions on Iran. Saudi Arabia has pushed for a hardline from the US on Iran and opposed sanctions waivers the US had initially granted to some of Iran's biggest oil customers, including China.

Crude prices moved lower following President Trump's announcement Tuesday that he had fired National Security Advisor John Bolton, fueling speculation that US sanctions on Iranian crude exports may be eased.

Perry on Friday dismissed that speculation and said that the Trump administration had no plans to ease sanctions without a significant change in behavior from Iran.

"I think that Iran knows what the rules of being a good citizen in the world is," Perry said. "If they continue to live outside the bounds of that, I suspect the United States will continue to have a very strong and harsh line towards them. And not just in oil production, but in other ways they participate in the global economy."

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, who appeared with Perry at Friday's news conference, said Iran is currently exporting about 200,000 b/d of crude, due to US sanctions, down from about 2.5 million in June 2018. Birol said Iran continues to export a significant amount of crude "under the radar," however.

Perry said rather than purchase Iranian crude in violation of US sanctions, countries should instead negotiate with US companies for exports.

"If the issue is, where are you going to buy your energy products, why not come talk to the number oil and gas producing country in the world?" Perry said.

The meeting between Perry and Abdulaziz comes as the US is importing the lowest amount of Saudi crude in decades.

The US imported 271,000 b/d of Saudi crude last week, the lowest weekly total on record, US Energy Information Administration data showed Wednesday.

The ongoing decline in US imports of Saudi crude is partly due to the ongoing OPEC production cuts, but has been exacerbated by higher refinery runs in Asia and the Middle East and a decline in Iranian supplies due to US sanctions.

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

-- Edited by Jeff Mower, newsdesk@spglobal.com