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Iran denies steep plunge in oil exports

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's oil exports have remained steady in recent months, Iran's OPEC governor said on Saturday, denying a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) that Iran is struggling to arrest a decline in its oil sales.

In a report on Friday, the IEA estimated Iran's exports falling to a new low of 860,000 barrels per day (bpd) in September, a huge plunge from 2.2 million bpd at the end of 2011.

The drop in Iranian supply is supporting oil prices and hurting Tehran's revenues, deepening hardship for a population deprived of basic imports and adding to pressure on the government over its nuclear program.

But Mohammad Ali Khatibi, Iran's OPEC governor, said the IEA's data was faulty and ran counter to data provided to OPEC by Iran.

"Iran's oil exports are the same as previous months and the situation is stable," Khatibi was quoted as saying by the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) on Saturday.

Khatibi also denied that the only buyers of Iranian oil were China, India, South Korea, Japan, and Turkey.

"The market for Iranian oil is beyond the mentioned countries...We are always exploring new markets but we don't publicize them much because it may be detrimental," Khatibi said without elaborating.

The United States and its allies are pressing Tehran to give up its disputed nuclear program by choking off oil revenues, which provide the vast majority of Iran's hard currency earnings. Iran says the program is for peaceful purposes.

The European Union banned Iranian crude from July 1 and other countries have cut purchases in response to tighter U.S. sanctions. The EU ban prevents EU insurance firms from covering Iran's exports, hindering imports by some non-EU buyers.

On Friday, the European Union provisionally approved new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, with senior diplomats giving their backing to measures against Tehran's banking sector and industry.

(Reporting By Yeganeh Torbati; editing by Keiron Henderson)

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