Iran Taps Old Oil Customers as It Eyes End of U.S. Sanctions

At least five Asian refiners have been contacted, sources say Talks preliminary and no details on volumes, prices discussed

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Iran is reaching out to old customers in Asia to gauge their interest in buying its oil as Tehran ramps up diplomacy to get U.S. sanctions lifted.

The National Iranian Oil Co. — the state oil marketer — has approached at least five refiners across the region to discuss the possibility of supply deals if sanctions are eased, according to people familiar with the matter. Talks are preliminary, with no discussion on volumes or prices yet, they said, asking not to be identified because the information is confidential.

One processor has been contacted twice this year after having no interaction with the OPEC producer at all in 2020, according to one person. The Iranian oil ministry declined to comment on the matter.

Iranian oil shipments have plunged after the U.S. tightened sanctions

Iran’s crude shipments dwindled to a trickle after reaching around 2.5 million barrels a day in early 2018 as former U.S. President Donald Trump tightened sanctions and ended waivers for some countries in 2019. Still, a number of Chinese refiners continued to take some oil. Prior to the penalties — put in place to pressure Tehran into renegotiating a nuclear deal — China and India were Iran’s biggest buyers in Asia, followed by South Korea and Japan.

Oil’s Wildcard

Citigroup Inc. has described Iran as the biggest wildcard for the oil market this year, although there’s no certainty a deal with the U.S. will materialize anytime soon that would lead to higher exports. President Joe Biden has offered to participate in talks to revive the nuclear accord, but Tehran wants U.S. sanctions to be lifted first. Europe said recently it will be more active in trying to revive the pact.

While Iranian oil exports are still subject to sanctions, shipments have been creeping up and flows to China have received some unwanted attention. India is also hoping Biden takes a softer line against Iran so that the world’s third-largest oil importer can diversify its crude sources.

Beijing opposed the sanctions and accused the U.S. of reaching beyond its jurisdiction. Washington claims Iran disguises the origin of its crude to skirt the sanctions and the Department of Justice recently seized 2 million barrels of crude aboard a Greek tanker, saying the owner was deceived into thinking the oil came from Iraq.

— With assistance by Sarah Chen, Debjit Chakraborty, Golnar Motevalli, Paul Wallace, and Rakteem Katakey -Bloomberg

About Stu Turley 2288 Articles
Stuart Turley is President and CEO of Sandstone Group, a top energy data, and finance consultancy working with companies all throughout the energy value chain. Sandstone helps both small and large-cap energy companies to develop customized applications and manage data workflows/integration throughout the entire business. With experience in implementing enterprise networks, supercomputers, and cellular tower solutions, Sandstone has become a trusted source and advisor in this space. Stuart has led the “Total Corporate Digital Integration” platform at Sandstone and works with Sandstone clients to help integrate all aspects of modern digital business. He is also the Executive Publisher of, the best source for 24/7 energy news coverage and is the Co-Host of the energy news video and Podcast Energy News Beat. Stuart is on Board Member of ASN Productions, DI Communities Stuart is guided by over 30 years of business management experience, having successfully built and help sell multiple small and medium businesses while consulting for numerous Fortune 500 companies. He holds a B.A in Business Administration from Oklahoma State and an MBA from Oklahoma City University.