Six oil tankers and a U.S. spy drone have been attacked since May either in, or near, the Strait of Hormuz — a strategically important waterway which separates Iran, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
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Analysts doubt much headway has been made between the U.S. and Iran, despite President Donald Trump’s comments that Iran would like to engage in talks.
Crude oil futures fell sharply, and were down more than 4% in afternoon trading after Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran was willing to negotiate. But oil erased about 2% of its losses after an Iranian official at the United Nations said Iran’s missile program is not negotiable.
“The question is now that the Iranians are disputing this, do they potentially harden their resolve to try to get sanctions relief through escalation?” said Helima Croft, RBC head of global commodities strategy.
Croft had said oil’s initial dive was an overreaction, since Iran has said previously it would not negotiate if it remained under sanctions. West Texas Intermediate crude futures settled down 3.3%, at $57.62 per barrel, but was higher in late trading, at about $58.04.
On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told NBC News that Iran does not want a war, and that the door to negotiations would be wide open if Trump lifts his sanctions. The Trump administration put sanctions on Iranian oil and other parts of its economy, after the U.S. pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the nuclear agreement made between Iran, the U.S. and five other countries.
“I think the door is open a crack, and I think all sides have been trying to look for an off-ramp, but there remains a chasm between the U.S. and Iranian position,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital. “I think the sell off was steeped on false hopes of some kind of breakthrough.”
Iran has been attempting to get relief from the sanctions from the remaining parties in the nuclear deal but has been expanding activities that wold violate the agreement, including enriching higher levels of uranium.
Henry Rome, Iran researcher at Eurasa Group, said Zarif’s comments to NBC about a willingness to talk could have been misunderstood, and Pompeo may have been reacting to that.
“They are very firm on this idea, which Zarif did say that they would not negotiate unless there is sanctions relief and they’ve been very clear and public on this,” Rome said. “I think if they came forward and said we want to negotiate with the U.S. tomorrow, President Trump would say sign up… But the Iranians aren’t interested in playing games with Trump.”.
“The reason you saw the rapid response from the U.N. mission is Zarif wants to make sure he’s still welcome in the country when he flies home,” said Rome. “The missile program is such a sensitive topic and such a red line that the regime has made it clear they will not cross. If they had not clarified this immediately you would have had, and you still could have, an uprising among hardliners that would threaten Zarif’s already diminished standing.”
Croft said it would be hard to believe that Iran wants to negotiate considering the recent behavior or its officials.. Croft said there haven’t been indications that Iran was willing to bend. “The Supreme Leader himself tweeted about walking back Iran’s JCPOA commitment,” she said.
Rome said he expects to see a renewed escalation of activities in the Gulf by Iran, such as the interaction Iran had with a British tanker.