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Oil dips to near $101 as Iran embargo talks falter
Oil dips to near $101 in Europe as EU's bid to block Iranian crude imports falters
By The Associated Press

Oil prices fell to near $101 a barrel Wednesday as the European Union's efforts to block imports of Iranian oil appeared to be stalling.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for February delivery dropped 83 cents to $101.41 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 93 cents to settle at $102.24 in New York on Tuesday.

In London, Brent crude was down 46 cents at $112.82 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Oil prices rallied Tuesday after China said oil imports grew 6 percent from a year earlier in December. Strong demand for oil in China, the world's second-biggest oil consumer behind the U.S., is a boost to global crude prices.

Tension between Iran and Western powers over Iran's nuclear program has also helped keep crude above $100. However, prices edged down Wednesday after the EU's plan to ban purchases of Iranian oil in hopes of choking off funding for the country's nuclear program were bogged down by issues such as exemptions for existing supply contracts.

Officials have said exemptions for long periods of time would significantly weaken any proposed embargo. Some EU members, notably Greece, are also heavily reliant on Iranian oil.

"There is a premium attached to oil prices due to the Iranian tension but efforts by the EU to impose an embargo on Iranian oil appeared to be stalling," said Victor Shum, an energy analyst with Purvin & Gertz in Singapore.

The U.S. has recently enacted new sanctions targeting Iran's central bank and its ability to sell petroleum abroad. Iran has threatened to respond to sanctions by shutting the Strait of Hormuz, a transit route for a fifth of the world's oil.

Shum said concerns over the health of European economies amid a debt crisis also dragged down oil prices. Oil also fell after the American Petroleum Institute's data showed a rise in U.S. crude inventories last week, he said. The Energy Department is expected to release its weekly inventory report later Wednesday.

Crude was also affected by the stronger dollar, which makes commodities like oil more expensive for traders holding other currencies. The euro was down to $1.2687 on Wednesday from $1.2790 late Tuesday in New York.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil fell 0.52 cent to $3.0962 per gallon and gasoline futures lost 0.98 cent to $2.7630 per gallon. Natural gas futures were down 0.95 cent to $2.846 per 1,000 cubic feet.


Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.

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