* New buyers in Europe emerge
* Iranian oil, condensate exports rise by 3% in Sep
* Exports to India and France surge
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Iran continues its quest for new crude buyers, especially in Europe, but its loyal customer base will continue to hinge on countries like India and China, whose demand for Iranian crude has observed a steady rise this year.
Iran has found interest for its crude in some unusual places in the past few months as it continues it diversify its list of buyers.
Earlier this month it agreed to sell 1 million barrels of crude oil to Hungary via Croatia as it seeks to widen its post-sanctions customer base, which now includes cargoes sold to oil major BP, France's Total, Greece's Hellenic Petroleum, Spain's Repsol and Cepsa, Russia's Lukoil, Poland's Grupa Lotos, Portugal's Petrogal and Italy's Saras and Iplom.
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Iran said it has held talks with Bosnia and Herzegovina this week as it hopes to expand its list of crude oil export destinations. However, its shipments to Asia remain the pillar of its export market.
IRAN INCREASE INDIA MARKET SHARE
In September, total estimated export volumes of crude and condensate on VLCCs, Suezmaxes and Aframaxes from Iran's crude and condensate ports jumped to 2.49 million b/d from 2.42 million b/d in August.
This sharp rise was driven by a heavier Iranian Heavy export program, sources said.
Exports to Asia accounted for 69%, or some 1.72 million b/d, of total outflows, marking a fall of almost 30,000 b/d from August.
Despite the slight fall, Asia remains its premier market with China and India buying almost 50% of Iranian crude last month.
India was the largest buyer of Iranian crude last month, totaling 602,456 b/d, up from 458,880 b/d in August.
India's thirst for Iranian crude has intensified this year, with its estimated share of market volume for September rising to 25% from 19% in August.
India's Oil Ministry recently said it received its first consignment of 260,000 mt of Iranian crude for its strategic reserves on the west coast in mid-October.
State-run Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd. received almost 2 million barrels of a variety of Iranian crude grades at the strategic crude oil storage facility at Mangalore, which has a capacity of 11 million barrels.
Around 5.5 million-6 million barrels of storage at the Mangalore facility is to be filled with Iranian crude.
The other two strategic reserve sites are at Visakhapatnam on the east coast, with capacity of 9.75 million barrels, and Padur in southern India's Kerala, which will have the highest capacity of around 18.33 million barrels when it becomes operational by the end of this year.
OTHER ASIA, EUROPE
China's crude oil imports from Iran have increased slightly this year, showing an 8% rise from January-September this year compared to the same period last year, according to recent data from the General Administration of Customs.
Taiwanese purchases rebounded to 59,701 b/d last month from zero in August.
Japan and South Korea, who are major buyers of Iranian condensate, saw their interest fall month on month.
But demand from these two countries is likely to stay robust as oil refiner Hyundai Oilbank starts commercial operations at its 130,000 b/d condensate splitter next month.
The splitter will mainly use South Pars condensate as a feedstock, traders said, and this will be supplemented by Qatari condensates, depending on pricing and availability.
South Korea's crude oil imports from Iran in September more than doubled from August to 12.175 million barrels, or 405,833 b/d, Korea National Oil Corp. data showed.
In Europe, France, Turkey, Italy, Greece and Spain remained the major buyers of Iranian crude in September.
Iran exported 153,742 b/d of crude to France last month, a sharp rise of 57% month on month, all of which go to oil major Total on a term-contract basis.
European refiners have rekindled their interest for Iranian crude in the past few months partly due to its competitive pricing compared to other medium-sour crudes from Russia and the Persian Gulf.
Iranian oil output growth has slowed slightly since June this year, with its older oil fields urgently needing investment and new technology to help boost output.
But its targets have not changed dramatically, the country's oil ministry said two weeks ago that it hopes to raise its crude oil production to around 4 million b/d next month, from around 3.89 million b/d in mid-October.
The Islamic Republic also aims to increase its crude oil exports to 2.4 million b/d, from 2.2 million b/d currently, National Iranian Oil Co. (NIOC) managing director Ali Kardor said recently.
Iran has also signaled its plans to increase the oil it is holding in storage. In mid-October, Iran Oil Terminals Company said it was currently holding 11 million barrels of crude at its 28 million-barrel storage facilities.
NIOC opened up a qualification process for 50 new upstream projects it plans to launch in the near future. It will publish a list of qualified companies on December 7.
Iran has said its oil and gas industry needs at least $200 billion in investment, with 40%, or $80 billion, to be provided by foreign companies.
--Eklavya Gupte, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Sierra Highcloud, email@example.com
--Edited by Derek Sands, firstname.lastname@example.org
[Update corrects figures in para 7 and 22]