Oil price rises as Iran's nuclear talks stall

The price of oil rose slightly Thursday, to above $94 a barrel, as talks between Iran and six powers to curb Tehran's nuclear program seemed to be at an impasse.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark U.S. crude for January delivery was up 24 cents to $94.09 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.  The contract for December, which expired Wednesday, closed down 1 cent at $93.33.

A new round of talks on Iran began in Geneva on Wednesday, with both sides indicating a first-step agreement was possible on a deal to roll back the country's nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief.

On Thursday, however, talks were delayed and a senior Iranian envoy suggested that momentum from a previous round had been slowed.

"What we are trying now is to rebuild confidence that we lost in the previous round of negotiations," Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told The Associated Press.

The U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are offering a gradual easing of sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy, raising the possibility of an influx of Iranian oil into world markets at a time of already abundant supplies.

"The marked decline in Chinese oil imports from Iran by more than 40 percent in October makes it clear that the market is not really reliant on crude oil from Iran at present," said analysts at Commerzbank in Frankfurt in a note to clients. "Any easing of the sanctions would thus trigger a noticeable price slide."

Signs that the Federal Reserve may start winding down its stimulus program also kept oil prices under pressure.

Minutes of the last Fed meeting showed members agreed they would likely start tapering stimulus in coming months if the job market improved further.

The minutes "provided some strong reference to tapering and that is bringing some participants to move their expectations for its start from March forward to December," said Olivier Jakob of Petromatrix in Switzerland.

Brent crude, the benchmark for an international variety of crude, was up 22 cents to $108.28 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

- Wholesale gasoline added 0.9 cent to $2.6548 gallon.

- Heating oil rose 1.08 cents to $2.9636 a gallon.

- Natural gas advanced 1.3 cents to $3.687 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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