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UPDATE 1-Saudi energy minister: We want sustainable oil prices

Rania El Gamal and Marwa Rashad

(Adds comments by minister on prices, market stability)

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia, OPEC's de facto leader, will work for oil market stability at a time of heightened U.S.-Iranian tension and wants to see sustainable prices and demand growth, the kingdom's energy minister said on Monday.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said it was too early to talk about whether the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, a group known as OPEC+, would continue with production curbs agreed under a deal that expires in March.

"As tension remains high in our region, Saudi Arabia will continue to do all it can do to ensure stable oil markets," the minister told an energy conference.

"We would like to have a stable oil market, sustainable growth in terms of demand, sustainable growth in terms of supply," he said, adding that both high and low prices were undesirable. "The worst thing is to have low oil prices that permanently damage industry."

Oil prices held steady on Monday as the United States and Iran appeared to retreat from the brink of full blown confrontation after a U.S. drone strike killed an Iranian commander on Jan. 3 and Iran retaliated with missiles launched against U.S. bases in Iraq.

Prince Abdulaziz said the United States was a strategic partner with a big role in international security. "We're leaving it to our friends in the U.S. to conduct themselves in the manner they see fit," he said.

The kingdom, the world's top oil exporter that witnessed an assault on its oil facilities last September that temporarily halved output, was the most "reliable and responsible supplier" of crude, the minister said.

Washington and Riyadh blamed Iran for the Sept. 14 missile and drone attacks on Saudi oil plants, a charge Tehran denied. (Reporting by Rania El Gamal and Marwa Rashad in Dhahran and Maher Chmaytelli in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)