US, Iran shake up oil market

US Iran
File Reuters

UNITED STATES (VOP TODAY NEWS) — The worsening of relations between Iran and the US could provoke a conflict in the Middle East. Washington reinforces its contingent in the region and calls on its citizens present in the Arab countries to be vigilant. The Iranian government is calling on the population to resist. This increases the uncertainty on the oil markets.

On May 15, the US State Department ordered the evacuation of its non-essential diplomatic staff from the Baghdad embassy and the Erbil consulate (Iraqi Kurdistan), the Kommersant newspaper reported . The case is not specified, but on Sunday already the US State Department urged Americans not to visit Iraq because of “increased tension” in the country. US embassies in Lebanon, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have also warned US citizens of increased tension in the region.

Earlier this week, representatives of the Central Command of the US Armed Forces (CENTCOM) said Iran was potentially preparing an attack on the US contingent in the Middle East. At the same time, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceled his visit to Germany to go to Baghdad. According to him, the purpose of the trip was to inform Iraqi officials of Iran’s “increasing flow of threats”.

In early May, US President of the National Security Council John Bolton’s adviser announced the dispatch of a carrier group to the Persian Gulf around the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier. US media, referring to intelligence services, reported a threat from Iranian and pro-Iranian forces to US troops in Syria, Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

According to media reports, it is Iran that is suspected by the US of Sunday’s attack on cargo ships in the UAE’s exclusive economic zone, which has triggered a jump in the price of a barrel. This diversion was followed Tuesday by a drone attack against oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia. The attack was claimed by the Houthi movement Ansar Allah, accused of relations with Iran.

US sanctions against Iranian oil importers add to the current uncertainty in the market. According to Iranian President Rohani, the situation in which the Iranians found themselves is even worse than at the time of the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 – one of the most difficult periods in the history of Iran. country.

“During the war we had no problems with our banks, nor with the sale of oil, imports and exports,” he says. While Ayatollah Khamenei, supreme leader of the Islamic Revolution, calls for a tough “resistance” policy based on seeking solutions to circumvent sanctions, strengthening the armed forces and promoting Iranian interests in the region.

On May 15, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted in its monthly report a drop in oil production in Iran because of US sanctions at the lowest level since the Iran-Iraq war.

Technically, this is already the case. According to OPEC, production in Iran declined in April to 2.55 million barrels a day, the lowest annualized figure since 1989. The IEA estimates Iran’s oil exports in April to 1,3 million barrels a day, which is two times less than in 2018. In 2014, when the oil embargo against Iran was supported not only by the United States but also by the EU countries, the Iranian oil production was much higher than today – about 3.1 million barrels a day.

However, information on production and exports is collected from secondary sources, while Iran has stopped supplying OPEC with information on its production since the last quarter of 2018, after the entry into force of the sanctions. US. Given that one of Iran’s main methods of circumventing sanctions is to exchange oil for that of another Gulf country (usually Iraq, whose ports issue false documents for cargo) , secondary information can be underestimated. Thus, in April, Iranian production fell by 164,000 barrels a day, while that of Iraq increased by 113,000 barrels a day.

Unable to increase oil supplies, Tehran is particularly interested in the rise in oil prices. The $ 1-a-barrel increase theoretically raises oil revenues by $ 1.3 million a day. For example, the attack on Saudi cargo ships in Emirati waters on May 13 raised the price per barrel by about $ 2 to $ 72.5 before dropping to $ 70.5 in attack on the oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia.

“I do not think Iran has been able to dare a diversion against cargo ships just to affect the price of a barrel. It’s a blow to be attacked, “says Vladimir Sajine of the Institute of Oriental Studies affiliated to the Russian Academy of Sciences. But he does not exclude that in Iran “some forces could theoretically decide to aggravate the situation”. And the United States would play for these forces.

The expert recalls that in April Iran listed CENTCOM on the list of terrorist organizations in response to Washington’s similar decision targeting the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

“In fact, the Iranians have legitimized the fight against the US military, who are now terrorists in their eyes. Washington itself has caused escalation in the region, as has the overall tension in the situation around Iran. It all started a year ago when the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal – the Global Joint Action Plan. Since then, the situation has only got worse. There will be no major war between the US and Iran. But that does not mean that an accidental incident will not escalate the conflict,” said Vladimir Sajine.

Europe and Russia both fear the military scenario.

“An accidental event could lead to a conflict, even if no party aspires,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said earlier this week. This is also the opinion of Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen. “If the Americans hardened their pressure on Iran, there would be a great risk of a new crisis comparable to that of Iraq. No one in the EU wants it, “he said after talks with Vladimir Putin in Sochi. The Austrian president also described the new US sanctions against Iran as “provocative”.

The Russian head of state, for his part, expressed regret over the “destruction” of the Action Plan. Moscow does not exclude that the escalation around Iran will only intensify.

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