October 2, 2019 / 11:09 AM / 21 days ago

Amid tensions, Iran's oil minister calls Saudi counterpart a friend

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Iran’s oil minister sought to defuse tensions with Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, calling his counterpart in Riyadh “a friend” and saying Tehran was committed to stability in the region.

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh reacts towards journalists as he arrives for an OPEC and NON-OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria, July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

The comment came at a top Russian energy conference chaired by President Vladimir Putin, where Iran’s oil minister Bijan Zanganeh met Saudi energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and OPEC’s Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have repeatedly clashed at OPEC meetings over output policies, and tensions between the two countries flared after Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for an attack on Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14., a charge Tehran denies.

    The attack remains in the spotlight as it sent OPEC’s oil output to an eight-year low in September, deepening the impact of a supply pact and U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela.

Zanganeh, speaking at a conference panel, denied Tehran was trying to raise tensions in the region and spoke warmly of Prince Abdulaziz, a senior member of Saudi royal family who became energy minister last month.

    “Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman has been a friend for over 22 years,” Zanganeh said.

The two ministers were later seen holding hands together with Barkindo and speaking on the sidelines of the conference in the first such encounter since the attack on the oil facilities.

Commenting on the attack, which sent oil prices soaring 20 percent on that first day of trading, Zanganeh said the issue should not be addressed by raising political pressure on Tehran.

When asked how would markets react if Iran was attacked, Zanganeh said: “I hope I will never be a witness to this.”

Prince Abdulaziz told a separate panel that Saudi Arabia has shown resilience by restoring its output to full capacity within just two weeks. He refrained from commenting on who might have been behind the attacks.

Russia condemned the attacks but didn’t know who was behind it, Putin told another panel in front of the Saudi and Iranian ministers and chief executives of oil majors BP and Exxon Mobil.

“We object to blaming Iran for this attack simply because there is no evidence. Yesterday, we discussed it with (Iranian President Hassan) Rouhani. His position is simple - Iran is not responsible for this,” Putin said.

Zanganeh said no extraordinary meeting of the world’s leading oil suppliers was needed for now as Saudi Arabia had restored output and the global oil market was balanced.

Looking ahead to 2020, Zanganeh said there were risks of excessive oil supply on the market. OPEC has been reducing output since 2017 to tackle excessive global stocks.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said he was more worried about “black swan” or unexpected major events such as attacks or trade wars, than traditional supply balances.

It was therefore important to maintain Russia’s cooperation with OPEC that has helped stabilise prices over the past two years, he said.

Writing by Andrey Ostroukh; editing by Deepa Babington and Bernadette Baum

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