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Sun 3 Feb 2008 01:16 AM

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Iran calls on Opec to cut output

Cartel may need to curb supplies to defend prices against drop in demand, oil minister says.

Iran wants Opec to discuss cutting crude oil output at the cartel's next meeting in March as stocks are expected to increase, Iranian oil minister Gholamhossein Nozari said on Saturday.

Nozari was speaking a day after Opec, meeting in Vienna, kept oil supplies unchanged, and Iran and Venezuela said it may need to curb output in March to defend prices against a drop in demand, should the US slip into recession.

"Our proposal ... for the upcoming meeting is that Opec ... cuts its output capacity," Nozari told a news conference in Tehran. "Iran and Venezuela brought up this issue so that it would be discussed at Opec’s next meeting."

He said Opec had reduced production in the past at the end of the cold season in the northern hemisphere, when demand for oil usually falls.

"Evaluating the market shows that in fact the amount of stocks is going up," he said. "The past few days have shown that the amount of oil supplied to the market is being used (to build up) stocks."

Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi said in comments aired on Saturday that Opec’s output policy decision in March will depend on how much crude oil stocks have been drawn down during the winter.

Al-Naimi told Al Arabiya television that predictions of output decisions at the Opec meeting in March were premature, but inventories were currently at the low end of the five-year average range.

In Vienna Opec essentially rejected appeals from Washington for more oil to lower fuel bills and bolster its slowing economy.]

Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter and the most influential member of Opec, is a close US ally and Opec delegates said it may prefer to nurse the West through an economic slowdown that could eat into crude oil demand.

But Tehran and Caracas will be reluctant to offer any economic help to their political foe, the US. (Reuters)

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