By Christopher Johnson
LONDON (Reuters) - Oil prices steadied on Monday as U.S. sanctions against Iran's fuel exports began but were softened by waivers allowing major buyers to import Iranian crude for a while, as Tehran said it would defy Washington and continue to sell.
Both oil benchmarks have lost more than 15 percent since hitting four-year highs in early October, as hedge funds have cut bullish bets on crude to a one-year low.
Washington imposed sanctions against Iran on Monday, restoring measures lifted under a 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by the administration of former U.S. president Barack Obama, and adding 300 new designations including Iran's oil, shipping, insurance and banking sectors.
And Washington said on Friday it will temporarily allow eight importers to keep buying Iranian oil.
Washington has so far not identified the eight. China, India, South Korea, Turkey, Italy, the United Arab Emirates and Japan have been the top importers of Iran's oil, while Taiwan also occasionally buys Iranian crude.
South Korea said on Monday it had been granted a waiver, at least temporarily, to import condensate, a super-light form of crude oil, from Iran. It was also allowed to continue financial transactions with the Middle East country, it said.
China's foreign ministry expressed regret at the U.S. decision but would not directly say if China had or had not been granted an exemption.
Oil markets have been anticipating the sanctions for months and the world's biggest producers have been increasing output.
Joint output from Russia, the United States and Saudi Arabia rose above 33 million barrels per day (bpd) for the first time in October, up 10 million bpd since 2010, with all three pumping at or near record volumes.
In the Middle East, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co plans to increase its oil production capacity to 4 million bpd by the end of 2020 and to 5 million bpd by 2030, it said on Sunday, from output of just over 3 million bpd.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)