By Jonathan Saul and Simon Falush
LONDON, Nov 6 (Reuters) - Egypt anticipates a ramp-up in oil volumes through the SUMED pipeline once Iran re-enters the world market - a move that is welcomed by Cairo, the country's petroleum minister Tarek El Molla told Reuters on Friday.
SUMED, which owns and operates Egypt's Mediterranean port of Sidi Kerir, is half owned by state-run oil company Egyptian General Petroleum Corp. A group of four other Gulf Arab countries - Iran's arch rival Saudi Arabia, as well as Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar - owns the other half.
Since a July nuclear deal with world powers, Iran has repeatedly announced plans to boost oil production and exports once sanctions are lifted to reclaim its position as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' second-largest producer.
"They used to work with us through SUMED. They used to store their crude there at Ain Sukhna (terminal) and Sidi Kerir," El Molla said on the sidelines of an Egypt investor forum in London.
"It will boost back again the activity of SUMED ... Of course I have no problem. But currently we are not talking with them."
The 200-mile (320-km) SUMED pipeline runs from the Red Sea to the port west of Alexandria. Western sanctions imposed on Iran's oil sector have brought shipments through Ain Sukhna and Sidi Kerir to a virtual halt since 2012, compounded by a freeze on insurance provision.
The United States last month approved conditional sanctions waivers for Iran, although it cautioned these would not take effect until Tehran had curbed its nuclear program.
Once an energy exporter, Egypt has turned into a net importer because of declining oil and gas production and increasing consumption. It is trying to speed up production at recent discoveries to fill its energy gap as soon as possible.
El Molla said exploration in the Western Desert had enabled Egypt to maintain steady oil production as new finds have offset declines from mature fields.
"Fifty-four to 55 percent of our crude is coming from the Western Desert, so it is the future and the potential of oil in Egypt."
He said oil production would stay steady at around 700,000 barrels per day for the next two years, but may increase after that because of new wells.
"Keeping production at the level it is now is in itself a success because you are netting off the natural decline in the reservoirs by adding new production of oil," he said.
"(Increased production) might be in the year 2017, 2018 when gas comes from Zohr and from the West Nile Delta (fields), condensate will come, so by that time, it (oil output) may be something more."
El Molla was appointed oil minister in September, succeeding Sherif Ismail, who launched a drive to lure back foreign energy investors driven away by low prices and debt arrears.
(Additional reporting by Eric Knecht in Cairo and Oleg Vukmanovic in Milan; Editing by Dale Hudson) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; + 44 207 542 4357 ; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com))
Keywords: IRAN EGYPT/PIPELINE