Oil Rates Slip as Tension Eases over Iran N. Program

 Brent crude oil slipped further below $68 a barrel on Friday after tension eased between the European Union and Iran over the OPEC member’s nuclear program. Losses were checked, however, by a series of refinery outages in top consumer the United States that have drained gasoline inventories and stoked concern about a supply crunch ahead of the summer driving season, Reuters reported.

Prices came under pressure in the previous session after Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said Tehran and the EU had neared unity in some areas of their talks.

London Brent crude, currently seen as more representative of global oil prices, was off 36 cents at $67.29 a barrel after falling 92 cents on Thursday. US crude was unchanged at $65.06.

“Certainly the improvement of the Iran situation is one of the factors that has helped put some pressure on oil,” said Tetsu Emori, chief strategist at Mitsui Bussan Futures Ltd.

A dispute between the West and Iran over its nuclear program has dragged on for nearly a year, keeping oil prices supported as investors anticipate possible supply disruptions. But the market softened on Thursday after Larijani said Tehran and the EU due to meet again in two weeks’ time were nearing ‘a united view’ and that new ideas had been raised to break an impasse.

The downturn was limited, however, by unplanned outages and refinery maintenance in the United States that helped drain gasoline stocks for an 11th straight week, leaving inventories 15 percent below early February levels, according to US data.

Dealers said lower refinery operations could translate into rising stocks of crude, as plants require less of the feedstock during down time. Prices have also drawn support from a flare-up in violence in OPEC member Nigeria after elections at the weekend that observers said were manipulated. Nigeria has lost 600,000 barrels per day of output over the past year.

The country’s president-elect, Umaru Yar’Adua, said he intends to tackle violence in the oil-producing Niger Delta.

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