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US weighs sanctions relief for some countries that cut Iran oil imports: State Department

Washington — The US is in the process of considering potential sanctions relief for some countries that significantly cut their Iranian oil imports, the State Department said Tuesday.

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US sanctions on Iran's oil buyers snap back Monday, forcing key importing countries like China, India, Turkey, South Korea and Japan to either make major cuts and seek waivers, or risk getting blocked from the US financial system.

"The US is in the midst of an internal process to consider [significant reduction exemption] waivers for individual countries," a spokeswoman said Tuesday on condition of anonymity.

"Our goal remains to get to zero oil imports from Iran as quickly as possible," the State Department spokeswoman added. "We are prepared to work with countries that are reducing their imports on a case-by-case basis."

The market has widely assumed in recent weeks the US will grant some relief to India after comments by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a visit with counterparts in New Delhi in September. But the Trump administration had so far avoided using the term "waiver."

S&P Global Platts Analytics expects Iran's crude and condensate exports to drop to 1.1 million b/d in November, less than half of the 2.4 million b/d six-month average from November 2017 through April 2018, just before President Donald Trump announced the US would exit the Iran nuclear deal and re-impose oil sanctions.

Iran's crude and condensate exports have averaged 1.7 million b/d so far in October, according to Platts trade flow software cFlow.

The Trump administration's expected hard-line sanctions enforcement was a main driver of higher crude prices in late August and September. Prices have eased since then, but the sanctions are expected to remain a key factor.

The State Department said October 17 that the US is confident the oil market will have sufficient supply to avoid price spikes when Iran sanctions go back into force.

Brian Hook, head of the department's Iran action group, said the US is continuing to coordinate very closely with oil producers and that the country is doing its part to maintain supply by increasing crude exports. He cited data that US crude production increased by 1.65 million b/d in August from a year earlier, with expectations of that rising by up to 1 million b/d within the next year.

"Our goal remains getting countries importing oil from Iran to zero as quickly as possible," Hook said. "We are working with countries that are reducing their imports on a case-by-case basis to assure that this happens."

--Meghan Gordon, meghan.gordon@spglobal.com

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