By Lesley Wroughton and David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three of eight countries granted waivers by Washington to import oil from Iran have now cut the imports to zero, a U.S. official said on Tuesday, adding that improved global oil market conditions would help reduce Iranian crude exports further.
While the United States has set a goal of completely halting Iran's oil exports, it granted temporary import waivers to China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea in November.
The Trump administration is currently in consultations with the countries ahead of a May 5 deadline when the waivers expire.
"We granted eight oil waivers to avoid a spike in the price of oil. I can confirm today three of those importers are now at zero," Brian Hook, the special U.S. envoy on Iran, told reporters.
Hook did not identify the three countries.
"There are better market conditions for us to accelerate our path to zero," Hook said, "We are not looking to grant any waivers or exceptions to our sanctions regime."
Hook said U.S. oil sanctions against Iran removed about 1.5 million barrels of Iranian oil exports from the market since May 2018.
"This has denied the regime access to well over $10 billion in revenue - a loss of at least $30 million a day," he said.
Oil prices on Tuesday hit their highest level so far in 2019, with Brent crude approaching $70 a barrel on the prospect that more sanctions against Iran and further Venezuelan disruptions could deepen an OPEC-led supply cut.
Brent futures reached a session peak at $69.52 a barrel, the highest since Nov. 13. The global benchmark rose 36 cents, or 0.52 percent, to settle at $69.37 a barrel.
Analysts believe the administration is likely to extend the waivers to the remaining five countries to placate top buyers China and India and to decrease the chance of higher oil prices.
China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey are likely to be given waivers that could cap Iran’s crude oil exports at about 1.1 million barrels per day, U.S.-based analysts at Eurasia Group said in January. That would remove Italy, Greece and Taiwan from the waivers list.
Hook said a total of 23 countries that once imported Iran oil had cut imports to zero.
"With oil prices actually lower than they were when we announced our sanctions and global production stable, we are on the fast track to zeroing out all purchases of Iranian crude," Hook added.
A senior Trump administration official told reporters on Monday that the U.S. government was considering additional sanctions against Iran that would target areas of its economy that have not been hit before.
The administration aimed to follow through with new sanctions around the anniversary of President Donald Trump's announcement last May withdrawing the United States from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers, the official said.
The accord sought to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb in return for the removal of sanctions that had crippled its economy. Trump ordered U.S. sanctions to be reimposed on Iran.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and David Brunnstrom; editing by Grant McCool and Tom Brown)
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Updated Date: Apr 03, 2019 04:05:28 IST