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Iran opens door to possible OPEC deal on output cuts

London — Iran's hardline position at OPEC may be showing signs of softening.

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The 14-member group is overcomplying with its committed cuts by almost 1million b/d, providing some cushion to raise production and still be in fullcompliance, Iran's oil minister Bijan Zanganeh said Tuesday in Vienna.

"I cannot reject it," he told reporters on arrival in the Austrian capitalahead of Friday's OPEC meeting. "We agreed on 100% compliance, not more."

But facing US sanctions on its oil sector coming into force on November 5,Iran would oppose any member taking market share from others, the country'sOPEC governor Hossein Kazempour Ardebili said Wednesday, clarifying theminister's position.

"Iran is against any country trying to compensate for members that can'tproduce their quota because this loss is not reflected in the balances yet,"Kazempour told reporters.

The production cut agreement commits OPEC and 10 non-OPEC allies, led byRussia, to 1.8 million b/d in supply reductions through the end of the year.

OPEC, which is responsible for the bulk of the cuts, produced 31.90 millionb/d in May, according to the latest S&P Global Platts OPEC survey. That'sabout 840,000 barrels below its ceiling of about 32.74 million b/d, when everycountry's quota is added up.

But Venezuela on its own was 610,000 b/d below its quota in May, according tothe survey, and given the country's severe economic crisis, it is unlikely tobe able to raise its output. So, if Venezuela is excluded, the rest of OPEChas 230,000 b/d of breathing room below the ceiling.

Whether that amount would be amenable to other deal participants seekingsignificant output boosts remains to be seen.

ENSURING SUPPLIES

Russia is floating a plan for the 24-country OPEC/non-OPEC coalition to liftquotas by as much as 1.5 million b/d.

Saudi Arabia reportedly wants a smaller amount, perhaps between 300,000 to600,000 b/d, to fill any supply gap left by Venezuela's continued decline andUS sanctions on Iran, as well as to ease concerns from US President DonaldTrump, a key ally, on high oil prices.

Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih has not spoken to reporters sincearriving in Vienna early Wednesday, but Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, thekingdom's minister of state for energy affairs, told the OPEC Seminar thatSaudi Arabia is "committed to ensuring the availability of supplies."

OPEC is discussing a "wide range of options, including bringing additionalsupplies to the market," the prince said in prepared remarks at the OPECSeminar in Vienna. "We will assess according to supply and demandfundamentals, but also the outlook for the remainder of the year."

S&P Global Platts Analytics estimates OPEC spare capacity at 2.0 million b/d,of which Saudi Arabia holds the vast majority.

"If Saudi Arabia production increases materially, OPEC spare capacity would beleft very tight," inhibiting the bloc's ability to respond to supplydisruptions, Platts Analytics said in a recent note to clients.

Whatever spare capacity Saudi Arabia may have, its highest ever monthly crudeproduction was 10.66 million b/d in August 2016, according to Platts OPECsurvey records. That is 650,000 b/d higher than it produced in May 2018.

OPEC's highest collective monthly crude output was 33.86 million b/d inNovember 2016, according to the Platts OPEC survey, though this includesIndonesia, which suspended its membership in December 2016, and does notinclude Equatorial Guinea, which joined in May 2017.

WHAT'S AHEAD IN VIENNA

A six-country OPEC/non-OPEC ministerial monitoring committee composed of SaudiArabia, Russia, Kuwait, Venezuela, Algeria and Oman meets Thursday afternoon.

A committee source said Iran could be invited to that meeting, which comes aday ahead of OPEC's regular meeting Friday.

Non-OPEC partners in the production cut deal are then scheduled to jointhe talks Saturday.

Iran appears to have an ally in non-OPEC Oman, with its oil ministerMohamed al-Rumhy saying Wednesday at the OPEC Seminar: "The numbers will keepon changing but the agreement shouldn't change and we should keep it intact." Venezuela and Iraq are also opposed to raising quotas.

Other members, however, side with Russia and Saudi Arabia on the need toincrease supplies.

Equatorial Guinea oil minister Gabriel Obiang said the issue for OPEC to sortout is how much of an output boost to codify.

"A stop on the caps has to happen," Obiang said in an interview. "Somethingneeds to be done and I think Saudi Arabia and Russia want to be responsible.An increase has to happen but it needs to be well studied and well thoughtout."

--Herman Wang, herman.wang@spglobal.com

--Edited by Maurice Geller, maurice.geller@spglobal.com