OPEC oil ministers gathered in Vienna Monday to discuss production levels under a cloud of uncertainty, with Iraq's deadline to halt UN-supervised oil exports scheduled to take effect, reported AFP.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)'s president, Chakib Khelil, vowed Sunday to raise oil production to meet any shortfall if Iraq halted exports Monday as threatened.
Khelil said he saw no need for the oil cartel to increase production because Iraq was not set to immediately stop its UN regime oil-for-food oil exports, the agency quoted him as saying.
"I understand there's no cut in production from Iraq," Khelil, Algeria's oil minister, told reporters as he arrived at a hotel for an OPEC meeting which gets under way Tuesday.
"The Iraqis have said they are going to meet all their contracts that they have entered into for the next month," he said.
"I don't expect...any change in supply from Iraq," he added.
Asked whether OPEC was prepared to step in to make up the shortfall if Iraq made good on its promise to halt UN-supervised oil exports from Monday, Khelil replied: "Of course. We always meet demand in the market...whatever the reason may be."
Baghdad announced Saturday it would stop its exports of 2.2 million barrels per day in the UN food-for-oil sanctions to protest a US-British proposal of a new regime of "smart" sanctions.
Khelil said that prices at current output levels were satisfactory. "There is no need for OPEC to really increase production because the prices are stable at $25," in the OPEC target range, he said, quoted by AFP.
OPEC oil ministers last week were practically unanimous in saying that production levels would be maintained at Tuesday's meeting of the 11-nation cartel, which produces 40 percent of the world's crude.
But the Iraqi announcement of an export suspension Saturday, a day after the UN Security Council extended the current sanctions regime for a month, cast a cloud of uncertainty over the meeting.
Iraqi Oil Minister Amer Rashid announced he was staying away from the OPEC meeting because he did not expect it "to take any important decisions."
OPEC Secretary General Ali Rodriguez of Venezuela, speaking informally Sunday to reporters, said there would be "no speculation" over what OPEC would do if Iraq carried through on its threat.
But he hinted there was a "possibility" that the organization would raise its output to counter the Iraqi decision.
Leo Drollas, an oil expert at the Center for Global Energy Studies, said that Saudi Arabia, the world's leading oil producer, appeared to have "already raised their output a little bit."
"I heard they told their customers," he said.
Iraq bluntly laid down Sunday the terms of its suspension of exports under the UN oil-for-food program implemented after the 1991 Gulf War.
It said it would halt exports Monday for at least one month, apart from tanker-truck deliveries to Jordan and Turkey, and only resume exports under a regular six-month renewal of the UN oil-for-food program – Albawaba.com
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