Saudi Arabia says it has enough oil output capacity to meet global customers' needs if new sanctions keep Iran from exporting oil, a top U.S. Republican lawmaker said on Friday.
House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor spoke to Reuters by telephone from Europe after several days of meetings in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi was among the officials he met.
"The Saudi government indicated that it was ready and able to meet needs of its customers," Cantor told Reuters. Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil exporter. Its top customers include the United States, Japan, China and South Korea.
Cantor was addressing concerns that oil shortages may arise from new sanctions in the offing against Iran by the United States and European Union, aimed at discouraging Tehran's nuclear program.
The United States has long embargoed Iranian crude, but has just approved new sanctions targeting Iran's Central Bank, the main conduit for its oil revenues. The European Union, which collectively buys about 500,000 bpd of Iranian oil, is expected to soon impose an embargo halting imports.
The goal of the West's increased pressure on Tehran is to stop the Islamic republic from building a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes.
Cantor is the number two Republican in the Republican-majority House of Representatives, after Speaker John Boehner.
During his tour of the Gulf region with several other U.S. lawmakers, Cantor also met officials from Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
"They also expressed the ability to have excess capacity coming on line later this year, as well as the capacity it has online now," Cantor said of oil producer UAE.
"I think the consensus is that there is enough capacity in the region to meet the needs of customers, excluding the exports of Iran," he said.
Cantor said he would push for the speedy implementation of the new U.S. sanctions on Iran's central bank, and he favored Congress passing further measures to penalise Tehran if it does not stop its nuclear program.
"We don't have time" to delay, he said.
The measures Obama signed into law on New Year's Eve would allow the president to sanction foreign banks that do business with Iran's central bank. But they do not kick in for several months, and give Obama wide latitude to pull his punches and avoid imposing penalties.
As soon as the central bank sanctions passed Congress in December, the U.S. House of Representatives passed another piece of legislation that would close some loopholes in existing sanctions and further choke off trade with Tehran.
The House bill included a provision that would deny entry to the United States of any ship that has recently visited a port in Iran, North Korea or Syria.
Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate. A bipartisan sanctions bill could be considered in committee soon after senators return to work from a winter recess later this month, a Senate aide said on Friday.
Some officials in the Middle East shared his sense of urgency about the need to stop Iran from getting the capacity to build nuclear weapons, Cantor said. "I think that the consensus is, no one wants Iran to be a nuclear power," Cantor said.
However, some officials in the region "believe you can't stop Iran from doing it, because the regime has nothing to lose," Cantor said.
"What that tells me is everything has got to be on the table," said Cantor, a hawk on defense issues, using language that implies the willingness to use military force as an option to deny Iran the means of developing an atomic bomb. The Obama administration has said there are no options "off" the table.