Iran Wants OPEC To Hold Output Target Steady

OPEC should hold its oil production targets steady, Iran's oil minister said, reflecting producer group's contentment with current price of crude.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- OPEC should hold its oil production targets steady, Iran's oil minister said Monday, ahead of this week's OPEC meeting, reflecting the producer group's contentment with the current price of crude.

Analysts and officials widely expect the 12-member Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries -- supplier of roughly a third of the world's oil -- to leave its production targets unchanged during its March 17 meeting even as current world oil supplies far exceed demand.

"Iran's viewpoint is that the production should not be increased, and no decision should be made for any change in production in OPEC," Masoud Mirkazemi told reporters on the anniversary of the 1951 nationalization of the country's oil industry.

OPEC has left its production quotas unchanged for over a year, opting to stay the course after its series of 4.2 million barrel per day reductions in late 2008 help engineer a rebound in then-plummeting crude prices. Benchmark crude for April delivery was near $81 per barrel in electronic trading Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Several OPEC members have echoed Saudi Arabia's views that oil in the range of $75 per barrel was fair for both consumer and producer nations. In addition, the group has been reluctant to change its quotas, fearing that another round of output cuts -- despite excess supply of oil in the market -- would undermine the fragile global economic recovery currently taking place.

On Sunday, Iran's OPEC governor, Mohammad Ali Khatibi, was quoted on the Oil Ministry's Web site as saying that OPEC members should push for greater compliance with their existing quotas, even though current supply far exceeds demand.

The group's compliance had dropped to about 55 percent by last month -- a decline that came even after OPEC, during its last few meetings, stressed the need for greater adherence with output targets.

Mirkazemi signaled that Iran favored crude at about $80 per barrel, and indicated that the group expects that price to hold for the remainder of the year.

Iran, OPEC's second largest exporter with an output of 4.2 million barrels per day, traditionally pushes for higher prices. It is also one of the most dependent on oil exports, with some 80 percent of its foreign revenue coming from oil sales.

Mirkazemi said the country planned to invest more than $200 billion in its oil industry over the next five years.

Officials also said last month that Iran plans to offer 5 billion euros in bonds by 2015 to finance projects. Mirkazemi said his country already sold some 250 million euros ($342 million) bonds in foreign markets.

The steps come as Iran is being forced to cast a wide net to secure funds for its oil sector, which has been hammered by a series of U.N. and U.S. sanctions. U.S. companies are barred from investing in Iran's oil sector and other Western oil firms have do so very hesitantly.

A push by Washington and Britain for a new round of tougher sanctions, in reaction to Iran's controversial nuclear program, threatens to further curtail the prospect of investments in the vital sector. The U.S. and several other Western nations believe the program is aimed at producing weapons, a claim that Iran has repeatedly denied. Iran says the program is only for peaceful purposes like power generation.

Mirkazemi said the countries which pursue the sanctions have managed only to deprive themselves of the chance to tap into some of the world's largest proven reserves of conventional crude oil.

"If they want to have a secure long-term energy supply, they have to invest in Iran's oil industry," he said.

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