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Interview-Iran Moves Cautiously on Asian Oil Demand

DUBAI, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Iran expects a strong turnaround in Asian demand for oil in 2000 but will focus on its traditional customers when production cuts are lifted, a senior Iranian oil marketing official said on Thursday.

"Provided the growth that everyone is expecting to see in the Far East, we expect demand for barrels to be very good," said Hojatollah Ghanimi Fard, the National Iranian Oil Company's (NIOC) director for International Affairs.

Iran has agreed to cut oil output as part of a pledge by OPEC member nations and other producers to reduce supply by just over two million barrels per day (bpd), boosting crude oil prices to 31-month highs. The supply curbs are due to expire in March.

OPEC power Iran will move quickly to boost ties with its traditional customers in Asia once oil production cuts are lifted because those buyers were constrained by the curbs, Ghanimi Fard said.

"We have disappointed traditional clients," he added. "We have to get back to traditional customers to satisfy their requirements if there is any change (in the cuts) in March."

There are no signs that the cuts will be relaxed before then, despite a strong oil price recovery. Iran is taking a cautious approach to the market and wants OPEC to push for stability, not brief price rises, Ghanimi Fard said.

Before the cuts were imposed, Iran's crude oil exports were evenly spread between NIOC's primary markets in Asia and Europe -- each one purchased 40 percent. The rest went to Africa, Canada and Latin America.

Now Asia buys about 43 percent of Iran's exports and about 38 percent is shipped to Europe under term contracts.

Ghanimi Fard said Iran was taking a long-term view of growth markets in China and India.

"We think Chinese requirements for Iranian crude are more than we can supply them with. So far we have responded to them positively and turned down their demand requirements," he said.

India has also emerged as a key market. The country said in March it had cancelled government-to-government diesel import contracts with key Middle East oil suppliers, with new refineries and the expansion of existing refineries expected to make up for the difference.

While the cancellations mean the Middle East will lose a key sales outlet for diesel, it is expected to gain a major opening for crude oil. Iran has held talks with Indian oil refinery officials but has said it had no immediate plans to help meet the country's rising demand.

Ghanimi Fard said a natural gas pipeline project in Iran to be built in about 18 months would allow Tehran to export more oil products such as gas oil and kerosene and tap new markets.

"We will not only be looking at the Persian Gulf and Asian markets only, we will look at Africa and the Mediterranean and the Caribbean," he said.


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