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Oil leaders to meet in Madrid after Jeddah failure

Qatari minister joins chorus saying market is oversupplied

A week after failing to deflate record oil prices at a summit in Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest crude producers and consumers will get another chance to tackle the problem at a meeting this week. More than 3,000 international delegates, including leading corporate and political figures, are to meet at the 19th World Petroleum Congress (WPC) in Madrid, which runs from Monday to Thursday.

"It's the Olympics of the oil and gas industry," director of the WPC, Pierce Riemer, told a press conference last week.

The gathering follows a surge in oil prices Friday that took both New York light sweet crude and Brent North Sea crude to record levels beyond $142 a barrel.

The president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the head of the International Energy Agency and ministers from Nigeria, Russia, Venezuela, India, France and the Netherlands are expected to be present.

They are to be joined by the bosses of major international oil groups ExxonMobil of the United States, CNOOC of China, Britain's BP and Shell, Rosneft of Russia and Total of France.

Saudi Arabia convened a hastily arranged meeting of consumers and producers in Jeddah last weekend to tackle the problem of record oil prices, which are forecast by OPEC's president to touch $150-$170 in the coming months.

Most experts agreed afterward that the only concrete result was Saudi Arabia's announcement that it would increase daily production by more than 200,000 barrels to 9.7 million - and that it could significantly step this up if necessary.

The gathering pitted consumer nations, which are calling for an increase in production, against producers.

Most OPEC members remain firmly against any increase in their production and blame speculators and the fall in the dollar for the remarkable run up in prices, which have doubled in the last 12 months.

Qatari Oil Minister Abdullah al-Attiyah said that oil markets are oversupplied but it would not be wise for any OPEC exporter to tighten the taps given the risk of exacerbating prices.

"It is not wise today to cut supplies even though there is a surplus because we do not want to create a psychological problem," Attiyah told Reuters. "I'm not in favor of it at all. We want to try to help to ease the psychological heat."

But the Qatari minister criticized a move by US politicians to sue OPEC if the oil club did not pump an amount of oil that Washington sees sufficient.

"The Congress should look to increase exploration inside the United States," the Qatari minister said. "It is strange to ask what I should produce. It's an issue of sovereignty."

Jorge Segrelles, the head of the organizing committee of the WPC, says the meeting is intended to be "a forum for actively finding solutions."

Given the differences in assessment of the situation between consumer and producer countries, the head of energy at consultancy Capgemini, Colette Lewiner, sees little chance of an agreement.

"There might be declarations of intent, but there will not be a consensus in the short term," she said. The main event, which will take place in Madrid's Ifema conference center, also faces competition from a rival meeting of environmentalists called to promote alternatives to crude oil as an energy source.

Marseille,07 04 2008
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