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Tue, May 27, 2003 - Page 12 News List

OPEC fears US may force Iraq to quit

SOVEREIGN DECISION The president of the petroleum cartel believes that it is not in Baghdad's interest to withdraw from the organization, but fears the US doesn't care

AFP , DOHA

OPEC can be expected to agree to slash production at a ministerial meeting in Qatar on June 11 to avoid a price collapse, OPEC President Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah told reporters yesterday, strongly defending Iraq's position within the oil cartel.

"The cut will be the topic that will be very carefully discussed," Attiyah said, noting that confusion about Iraq's return to the market and inventories made it difficult to set a figure.

"I believe maybe we will cut it because we believe that in all earnestness there will be more oil in the market and the market cannot accept it," he said. "We don't want to see this huge floating of oil, collecting dramatically and putting pressure on the oil price. We don't want to see ourselves in the position of 1999," when prices collapsed to US$10 a barrel on oversupply.

"Personally I believe US$25 is a very reasonable price," said Attiyah, who is also Qatar's energy minister, reiterating the 11-member cartel's target rate.

"We will discuss the market situation very carefully. We would like to be sure that we are on the safe side ... avoiding any crisis."

Iraq's return to the market after the US-led war is predicted to come around the end of next month, but Attiyah said it was difficult to read.

OPEC would "also treat very carefully the re-entry of Iraq to the market," at next month's talks in Doha.

"It's really very difficult," he stressed, recalling conflicting reports of the exact timing and how quickly Iraq would reach pre-war daily average production of 2.7 million barrels per day (bpd).

"This also we have to study very carefully," he said. "The analysis is very confused now about when Iraq is coming."

He took strong issue with US suggestions that Baghdad may pull out of OPEC.

"I heard a lot of rumors saying maybe Iraq will withdraw," Attiyah said in his office at Qatar's energy ministry.

"Is it true? I don't believe it. Is the interest of Iraq tomorrow to see the oil price at US$6? I don't believe it. I don't think this a pragmatic answer."

Washington's chief executive officer of Iraq's oil advisory board, Philip Carroll, told the Washington Post on May 17 Iraq may be best served by ignoring OPEC quotas and producing as much oil as it can.

"I believe personally that Iraq needs OPEC and OPEC needs Iraq and Iraq is one of the founders of OPEC," Attiyah riposted in reference to the establishment of the cartel in Baghdad in 1960.

"Anyone can say ignore" the producers' cartel, Attiyah said, raising his voice.

"Anybody can walk out of OPEC, this is a sovereign decision, but is it of benefit to Iraq? My answer is no," Attiyah.

Attiyah has already said that for oil-related matters OPEC would not recognize the US as a representative of Iraq, which boasts the world's second largest oil reserves, and would await a new government in Baghdad.

Iraq for the past decade has remained an official OPEC member but has exported its oil under UN auspices as part the sanctions regime imposed following its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Sanctions were lifted last week, paving the way for exports under the post-war US administration in Iraq.

Iraq's last OPEC quota in July 1990 was 3.14 million bpd, the same as Iran and about 14 percent of OPEC's production ceiling. Before the war Iraq's antiquated oil industry could manage to pump an average of 2.7 million bpd.

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