Chavez arrives in Kuwait on OPEC tour under US criticism of Iraq visit
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez visited Kuwait on Tuesday on the second leg of a tour of all OPEC countries ahead of a Caracas summit, as Washington criticized his inclusion of sanctions-hit Baghdad.
Chavez, who was received by Kuwait's Oil Minister Sheikh Saud Nasser al-Sabah, spoke out in favour of a "fair price" for oil, and said a balanced market should be maintained. "We affirm the need to cooperate always within one strategy to maintain the balance in the market, and to defend the fair price of oil," Chavez told reporters through an interpreter on arrival. "This is our supreme interest ... for Kuwait, Venezuela and (other) OPEC members. For this reason I feel that hiking or reducing output is related to the market and how it develops. We have to emphasise a fair price for oil," he added.
Sheikh Saud said the current oil price is fair and OPEC is trying to maintain it at this level. "We are doing all we can to maintain the prices as they are today. I think they are fair and reasonable prices ... for this season," he said.
Chavez, who is on a tour of member states of Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries to invite their leaders to attend Caracas summit in September, went into official talks with Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah.
Although the United States criticized Chavez's planned visit to Baghdad, Kuwait remained silent on the trip. The Venezuelan president had invited the Saudi King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz for the September 27-30 summit to mark the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the oil cartel.
Chavez, whose country holds the revolving presidency of OPEC, held talks with the two Saudi leaders late Monday in the port city of Jeddah, the first stop in his tour.
Chavez left late Tuesday for Qatar and is also due to travel to the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, Libya, Nigeria and Algeria, before returning to Caracas on August 15.
Oil prices fell Monday on the international markets as he began his tour. The key objective of the 10-nation tour is for Chavez to personally invite all the OPEC members to attend the summit, which is only OPEC's second since the organisation was set up in Baghdad in September 1960. A first OPEC summit was held in Algiers in 1975.
The Venezuelan president is expected in Iraq on August 10 to meet Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, becoming the first head of state to visit Baghdad since the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait. US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington could not understand the visit and would be raising the issue with "relevant" Venezuelan officials, the spokesman said.
"We do think it's a rather dubious distinction to be the first democratically elected head of state to go meet with the dictator of Iraq," Boucher said in reference to Saddam. "It's very hard for us to understand ... given that Iraq continues to flout its international obligations," he said. "In any contact with Iraqi officials we would expect Venezuelan officials to make clear that the roots of the current confrontation with Iraq are Baghdad's nine-year-long refusal to meet its international obligations," Boucher said.
At the United Nations, officials said no Security Council resolution prohibited travellers from going overland or by sea to or from Iraq, which has been under embargo since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)