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June 20, 2018

Saudi struggles for Gulf oil producers’ support ahead of OPEC meeting


FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Organization of the Petroleoum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is seen at OPEC's headquarters in Vienna, Austria June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

By Rania El Gamal, Shadia Nasralla and Ernest Scheyder

VIENNA (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is struggling to convince fellow OPEC members including Gulf allies on the need to raise oil output, sources familiar with the talks said on Wednesday, adding to complications ahead of an OPEC meeting this week.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meets on Friday to decide on output policy amid calls from major consumers such as the United States and China to cool down oil prices and support the global economy by producing more crude.

Iran said on Tuesday OPEC was unlikely to reach a deal, setting the stage for a clash with Saudi Arabia and Russia, which are pushing to raise production steeply from July to meet growing global demand.

Adding to the complications is a lack of compromise among usually aligned Gulf oil producers ahead of the Friday meeting, according to two sources familiar with the talks.

For graphic on IEA estimates of non-OPEC supply growth in 2018 click https://reut.rs/2rJnnCO

For graphic on IEA estimates of global oil demand growth click https://reut.rs/2Ik645v

For graphic on OPEC compliance in May – Reuters Survey click https://reut.rs/2JRWnw1

For graphic on balance between global oil supply and demand click https://reut.rs/2MB4tH3

Traditional Saudi allies – the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain – believe Saudi Arabia was too quick to respond to U.S. calls for higher production, and have been rattled by Riyadh’s close coordination with non-OPEC Russia, sources said.

There are different views on how much to increase production and whether such a move should be gradual, one source said following a meeting of Gulf oil ministers on Tuesday evening.

Russia has proposed OPEC and non-OPEC raise output by 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd), effectively wiping out existing production cuts of 1.8 million bpd that have helped rebalance the market in the past 18 months and lifted oil to $75 per barrel. Oil was trading as low as $27 in 2016.

OPEC members Iran, Iraq, Venezuela and Algeria have opposed a relaxation of production cuts, fearing a slump in prices.

But OPEC could still agree a last-minute deal on Friday by compromising on a lower output increase below 1 million bpd, OPEC sources have said.

A senior Iranian official said on Wednesday that OPEC should maintain its existing deal to cut oil supply until the end of 2018, maintaining Iran’s opposition to increasing supplies.

“We have a valid deal,” Iran’s OPEC governor Hossein Kazempour Ardebili said, responding to a question whether the agreement would be adjusted on Friday. OPEC’s supply-cutting pact runs until the end of 2018.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, asked whether he expected an easy meeting on Friday, said: “We will find out. Stay tuned.”

CONVINCING IRAN

A decision to increase output could be taken with Iran refusing to sign up, as has happened before in OPEC.

Iran has so far been the main barrier to a deal, with Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh saying on Tuesday OPEC should not yield to pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to raise output.

He said Trump had contributed to the rise in prices by imposing sanctions on OPEC members Iran and Venezuela, which will likely lead to lower exports.

Zanganeh said he would leave Vienna on Friday even before OPEC holds talks with non-OPEC producers the next day, but efforts were underway on Wednesday to convince Iran to participate in a deal.

Sources said Saudi Arabia did not want to be seen as putting too much pressure on Iran and hence Russia could instead try to convince Tehran.

Zanganeh was due to attend a ministerial committee on Thursday, two sources said. Iran is usually not part of the committee, which includes Russia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Algeria and Venezuela.

Iraqi Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi said on Wednesday he hoped there would be agreement when OPEC meets but added: “The oil market has not reached the level of stabilization.”

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