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US, India resume key talks on cutting Iran oil imports ahead of sanctions

Washington β€” US and India will resume high-stakes negotiations Friday over the US request for India to slash its Iranian oil imports when sanctions snap back in about three weeks.

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Platts Analytics expects Iranian crude and condensate exports to fall to 1.1 million b/d by October loadings, and to 800,000 b/d by Q4 2019, down from 2.91 million b/d in April.

Brian Hook, head of the State Department's Iran action group, and Francis Fannon, assistant secretary for energy resources, will travel to India and later hold talks on Iran in Europe with EU counterparts and the International Energy Agency.

The India meeting comes days after the country's oil minister said two companies have made nominations to import Iranian oil in November despite the threat of sanctions.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said since July that the government would consider requests for sanctions relief from a "handful of countries," but analysts continue to expect those exemptions to be few and far between.

India has been seeking relief from the US sanctions, with the highest-level talks happening in New Delhi in September between the foreign and defense ministers from both countries. At the time, Pompeo left the door open for potentially granting relief to India.

"Many countries are in a place where they -- it takes a little bit of time to unwind, and we'll work with them, I am sure, to find an outcome that makes sense," Pompeo said.

Current prices suggest India's decision to continue to bring in Iranian crude makes sense, as Iranian crude grades have offered wider discounts in order to remain competitive among the few swing buyers the country still has.

In West Coast India, Iran Heavy has slipped to a $2.70/b discount to US sour benchmark Mars on a delivered basis thus far in October, according to S&P Global Platts calculations, compared with $2.40/b over September and a 13 cent/b premium in July.

Iran Heavy has held a $3-$4/b discount to Saudi Arab Medium over this period. -- Meghan Gordon, meghan.gordon@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Wendy Wells, newsdesk@spglobal.com