Asian imports of Iranian crude fell below 1 million barrels per day (bpd) for a second time this year to a one-year low due to seasonal demand fluctuations, although the shipments were still up nearly a third from October last year, Reuters reported.
Iran and world powers failed to meet a Nov. 24 deadline for resolving a 12-year-old dispute over Iran's nuclear program and gave themselves until the end of June for further negotiations.
Some analysts, though, said the nearly 40 percent fall in oil prices since June and difficulty in raising exports to make up lost revenue may soon force Iran to a final agreement.
"Iran is likely to be the one to make concessions given finances are its top priority," said an oil industry analyst who declined to be identified. "Falling crude prices are likely to influence its diplomacy."
Last year's interim agreement that eased some sanctions on Iran in exchange for stepped curtailment of nuclear work allowed it to keep exports at about 1 million bpd, down from 2.2 million bpd before toughened sanctions were put in place in 2012.
Imports by Iran's four biggest buyers, China, India, Japan and South Korea, have averaged 1.11 million bpd over January-October this year, mainly due to soaring imports from the first two after the partial easing of sanctions.
The four buyers together took in 877,888 bpd of the Islamic republic's crude last month, down 19.1 percent from the month before, government and tanker-tracking data shows.
This week's extension of the interim deal pushed any recovery of Iran's exports to higher levels to sometime next year at the earliest. Iran expects to double its oil exports within two months if sanctions are fully lifted.
But there's still a wide gap to close before a deal is clinched, noted other analysts and some Western diplomats.
"I think it goes nowhere," said Nobuo Tanaka, former executive director of the International Energy Agency, when asked about the progress of talks.
Industry sources said Iran has been frequently asking buyers to take more crude, a possible sign of desperation over its oil-dependent economy.
The following tables describe Asia's Iran crude imports in bpd for last month and the year to date.
Nation Oct-14 Oct-13 yr/yr pct
China 338,635 249,872 35.5
India 309,900 194,300 59.5
Korea 66,065 98,097 -32.7
Japan 163,288 127,279 28.3
Total 877,888 669,548 31.1
Nation Jan-Oct 2014 Jan-Oct 2013 yr/yr pct
China 546,708 409,976 33.4
India 272,100 193,900 40.3
Korea 121,197 132,648 -8.6
Japan 173,262 188,036 -7.9
Total 1,113,267 924,560 20.4