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Mon 30 Jan 2012 10:00 AM

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Brent drops towards $111 ahead of EU debt talks

Prices aided by concerns over supply from sanctions-hit Iran, South Sudan

Brent drops towards $111 ahead of EU debt talks
oil refinery

Brent crude edged down on Monday as investors cautiously
eyed a European Union summit for a resolution to the region's debt crisis, but
prices stayed above $111 per barrel on concerns over supply from Iran and South
Sudan.

EU leaders are expected to sign off on a permanent rescue
fund for the euro zone at the summit on Monday and agree on a balanced budget
rule in national legislation, with unresolved problems in Greece casting a
shadow on the discussions. Asian shares, base metals and gold were trading lower
on concerns about Europe.

Brent crude fell 36 cents to $111.10 a barrel by 0423 GMT
and US crude was down 46 cents at $99.10 a barrel. Both contracts gained more
than 1 percent last week.

"The deteriorating economy in Europe is being priced in
and there is a concern on whether we'll face a EU-led recession," said
Victor Shum, senior partner at oil consultancy Purvin & Gertz.

Greece and its private creditors are expected to have a debt
swap deal ready this week that is essential for sealing a new bailout and avoid
an uncontrolled default.

Yet, talks are increasingly problematic as its official
lenders are demanding unpopular reforms in the debt-laden country.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is in Iran for
inspections on its controversial nuclear programme that has drawn tough
sanctions from the West.

The IAEA delegation began inspections on Sunday to try to
advance efforts to resolve a row about the nuclear work which Iran says is purely
civilian but the West suspects is aimed at seeking a nuclear weapon.

The IAEA visit could spark off more rhetorics between Tehran
and the West in the next few days, adding more volatility to the oil markets,
Purvin & Gertz's Shum said.

Iran had vowed to stop oil exports soon to "some"
countries but postponed a parliamentary debate on a proposed halt to crude
sales to the EU, sending conflicting signals in the dispute.

The EU, which accounted for a quarter of Iran's crude sales
in the third quarter of 2011, will implement its own embargo on Iranian oil by
July while the United States wants Asian buyers to cut imports.

India, a major customer for Iranian crude, has said it would
not join the wider international efforts to put pressure on Tehran by cutting
oil purchases.

Supply disruption in Africa also supported oil prices. South
Sudan has totally shut down oil output in a row with Sudan over export transit
fees and will only restart after the two reach a deal covering border security
and the disputed Abyei region, its oil minister said.

Africa's top exporter Nigeria has resumed Bonny Light crude
output after Royal Dutch Shell finished repairs to a damaged oil pipeline.