Oil freeze deal faces trouble as Saudi-Iran tensions spike
DOHA – A spike in tensions between arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran appeared on Sunday to ruin prospects of the first binding oil output deal in 15 years between OPEC and non-OPEC nations, and looked set to prompt another fall in the price of crude.
Some 18 OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers, including Russia, had been meant to meet in the Qatari capital of Doha on Sunday morning and quickly rubber-stamp a deal to freeze output at January levels until October 2016.
But the meeting was postponed after OPEC’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia told participants it wanted all OPEC members to take part in the freeze, according to OPEC sources.
Riyadh had earlier insisted on excluding Iran from the talks because Tehran had refused to freeze production, seeking to regain market share after the lifting of Western sanctions against it in January.
With the deal running into trouble, oil ministers in Doha met with the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani – who was instrumental in promoting output stability in recent months.
But a new draft seen by sources thereafter contained none of the binding points of the previous outline. Ministers are due to start talks at around 1200-1230 GMT, according to sources. “I am not sure you can call it a freeze,” one OPEC source said.
A senior oil industry source said: “The problem now is to come up with something that excludes Iran, makes the Saudis happy and doesn’t upset Russia.”
Failure to reach a global deal would signal the resumption of a battle for market share between key producers and likely halt a recent recovery in prices.
“If there is no deal today, it will be more than just Iran that Saudi Arabia will be targeting. If there is no freeze, that would directly affect North American production going forward, perhaps something Saudis might like to see,” said Natixis oil analyst Abhishek Deshpande.
Brent oil LCOc1 has risen to nearly $45 a barrel, up 60 percent from January lows, on optimism that a deal would help ease the supply glut that has seen prices sink from levels as high as $115 hit in mid-2014.
Saudi Arabia has taken a tough stance on Iran, the only major OPEC producer to have refused to participate in the freeze.
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Bloomberg that the kingdom could quickly raise production and would restrain its output only if Iran agreed to a freeze.
Iran’s oil minister Bijan Zanganeh said on Saturday OPEC and non-OPEC should simply accept the reality of Iran’s return to the oil market: “If Iran freezes its oil production … it cannot benefit from the lifting of sanctions.”
Although a freeze would be a significant step for oil producers, it would have only a limited impact on global supply and the market is unlikely to rebalance before 2017, the International Energy Agency said on Thursday. -Reuters