U.S. Pushing Russia, Iran Towards Gas Cartel


2007

The short-sighted policy that the United States pursues in respect of Iran helps Russia set up a global gas monopoly of no precedent. The giant will be stronger than OPEC, warned Retired Colonel Laurence Wilkerson, who had been once the chief of staff of U.S. former Secretary of State Colin Powell. According to the report that Wilkerson presented to Congress Wednesday, the potential bond of Moscow and Tehran could create a natural gas monopoly that will obscure even OPEC. What’s more, the oil assets of that bond could be consolidated, Wilkerson forecasted. Today’s short-sighted policy that the United States pursues in respect of Iran makes the implementation of this task easier for Russia, the official said. In addition to Russia-Iran bond, Wilkerson went on, the Bush administration has overlooked a few other hazards to the country’s strategic interests in the Persian Gulf, where the standoff between Washington and Tehran has already amassed too many troopers of the United States.

Source: http://www.kommersant.com/p-11646/Gas_cartel/

Russia readies nuclear fuel bound for Iran


Moscow pushes ahead with plans to supply Tehran with uranium after release of IAEA report, Iran welcomes move, says Russian commitment to its nuclear program 'a matter of principle'


Russia on Friday gave the clearest indication yet that it was ready to send uranium to fuel Iran's first atomic power station, upping the stakes in a diplomatic crisis surrounding Tehran's nuclear program. Russia's state-run nuclear fuel producer said inspectors from the United Nations' nuclear watchdog would later this month start sealing nuclear fuel bound for the Bushehr plant, a major step to shipping the fuel to the Bushehr plant in Iran. In a report on Iran issued on Thursday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it had "made arrangements to verify and seal the fresh fuel foreseen (for Bushehr) on Nov. 26, before shipment of the fuel from Russia to Iran". Russia has so far given no concrete date for when it will send the nuclear fuel to Bushehr, but says it would be sent six months before the plant's repeatedly delayed start-up. According to Russian forecasts, the reactor at the plant could be started up in 2008 and nuclear fuel would have to arrive at the plant six months before that.

Iran: Russian approach encouraging

Iran's ambassador to Russia on Friday said nuclear fuel deliveries to the Islamic Republic were a "matter of principle", and hoped Moscow would send them soon. "We hope that promises we have been receiving from official Russian representatives on such an important issue ... will soon be carried out and realized," Ambassador Gholamreza Ansari said. The diplomat was speaking at a news conference held simultaneously with Russia's announcement on fuel inspections. In Iran, nuclear officials welcomed the fuel delivery developments. "Russia has formally informed (the IAEA) that it is ready for the Bushehr nuclear fuel in Russia to be checked and sealed on Nov. 26," IRNA quoted Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, as saying. "This means, from a technical and legal point of view, the fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant is ready for transfer to Iran," he said. The United States, Israel and key European Union nations suspect Iran is trying to build nuclear bombs. But Russia, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, says there is no evidence Tehran is seeking atomic weapons. "Those offers we hear about the Bushehr AES from our Russian friends are encouraging for us," Ambassador Ansari said in Moscow. "The issue of construction at Bushehr between Russian and Iranian societies is a matter of principle," Ansari said. Tehran says a report by the IAEA this week has vindicated its repeated statements that its nuclear program was purely civilian and showed that there would be no basis for further discussion of it in the United Nations Security Council. The IAEA report, released on Thursday, said Iran had made important strides toward transparency about its nuclear activity but had yet to resolve outstanding questions. It also said Iran had expanded uranium enrichment.

Source: http://www.ynetnews.com/Ext/Comp/Art...472284,00.html

In related news:

Critics Assail Weak Dollar at OPEC Event


A rare meeting of the heads of state of the OPEC countries ended here today on a political note, with two leaders — President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran — blaming the weakness of the United States dollar for high oil prices. Despite the best efforts of the host country, Saudi Arabia, to steer the meeting away from politics and promote OPEC’s environmental concerns, the leaders of Venezuela and Iran let loose some show-stealing statements. “The dollar is in free fall, everyone should be worried about it,” Mr. Chávez told reporters here. “The fall of the dollar is not the fall of the dollar — it’s the fall of the American empire.” During a news conference after the meeting, Mr. Ahmadinejad added: “The U.S. dollar has no economic value.” Mr. Ahmadinejad said that oil, which was hovering last week at close to $100 a barrel, was being sold currently for a “paltry sum.” And Mr. Chávez predicted that prices would rise to $200 a barrel if the United States were “crazy enough” to strike at Iran, or even at his own country.

Normally, meetings of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries are tepid affairs where ministers leave politics at the door and talk about oil inventory and supply and demand. This unusual meeting, held amid the pomp and glitter of the Saudi royal court, had been planned since last December but happened to fall at a time of renewed concern over record oil prices and the shrinking value of the dollar. At the summit’s opening ceremony on Saturday, Mr. Chávez sought to bring OPEC back to its militant and revolutionary roots. “OPEC should set itself up as an active political agent,” Mr. Chávez said, addressing about 1,000 guests in a conference center by the royal quarters. While Mr. Chávez’s 23-minute statement was brief by his own standards, it drew a gentle rebuke from King Abdullah, the Saudi monarch, who chided him for talking longer than the time allotted by royal protocol. He also turned down Mr. Chávez’s plea, saying: “Those who want OPEC to take advantage of its position are forgetting that OPEC has always acted moderately and wisely.”

It is only the third time in OPEC’s 47-year history that such a high-level meeting has taken place. The first was in Algiers, in 1975, at the height of OPEC’s nationalist period; the second was in 2000, when the oil cartel met in Venezuela to devise a strategy to increase prices after they had collapsed to about $10 a barrel in the late 1990s. This meeting, which lasted less than 24 hours, was supposed to focus on long-term issues like the security of supplies and environmental policy. The Saudis in particular sought to reassure the world that OPEC was a reliable oil supplier. “OPEC has made a point, from its establishment, to work for the stability of the oil markets,” said the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal, at a news conference after the close of the summit on Sunday. “Oil should be a tool of construction and development, not one of dispute.”

Saudi Arabia also wanted to highlight a new emphasis on protecting the environment by announcing the establishment of a $750 million fund to reduce carbon emissions. The kingdom will contribute $300 million for research into technology that captures carbon spewed by power plants or refineries and stores it underground. In addition, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar will provide $150 million each. Oil producers see climate policies that focus on oil consumption as an unfair way to curb the use of fossil fuels worldwide. By financing research into carbon emissions, Saudi Arabia says it is seeking ways to extend the use of petroleum resources at a time when global warming could lead to changes in consumer behavior in Western countries.

“We want to continue using fossil fuels while protecting the environment,” said Mohammad al-Sabban, a senior Saudi government adviser on climate change. “What we are worried about is for industrialized countries to use climate policy as a pretext to discriminate against oil.” Other ministers also expressed the more moderate views that typically emerge from an OPEC meeting. Despite Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statement about oil prices being paltry, officials from several other countries — including the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia — said that prices were too high. “We are going down uncharted territory, and everyone should be cautious,” said Odein Ajumogobia, Nigeria’s oil minister, referring to the current prices.

The weakness of the dollar proved to be even more controversial here and created frictions among members of the group. Iran — with the backing of Venezuela and OPEC’s newest member, Ecuador — worked hard to persuade the group that it should mention the falling dollar in the summit’s final declaration. But Saudi Arabia rejected Iran’s proposal, saying that such a move might provoke a “collapse” of the dollar. During a closed session on Friday that was mistakenly broadcast on an internal television circuit, Prince Saud al-Faisal said the issue was too delicate to be included in a statement. In the end, the Saudis were forced to yield a little. The final statement, while making no mention of the dollar, said OPEC would “study ways and means of enhancing financial cooperation among OPEC member countries.”

According to Iran, OPEC will also look for ways to establish a currency basket to offset the declining value of the dollar. But Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries are opposed to this old idea, and few analysts believe it has any chance of succeeding. It is too early to say whether the views expressed by Mr. Chávez and Mr. Ahmadinejad signaled a rift in the exceptional consensus that has sustained OPEC’s success in recent years, or whether they were merely an example of conference theatrics by countries at odds with the American government. In the end, it fell to Ali al-Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, and the main architect of OPEC’s focus on business fundamentals in recent years, to underline the conference’s main message.

“Everyone knows that OPEC has renounced the principle of controlling oil prices since the 1980s,” Mr. Naimi said at a news conference on Sunday. “Since then, the price has been determined by the market. The fluctuations you are witnessing today have nothing to do with OPEC actions.”

The meeting was held in a conference center that was a gaudy mix of the palace at Versailles and Greek Revival style, with some rococo touches. It also displayed the whole range of Saudi extravagance: blue marble floors, gold-plated fixtures, and dozens of crystal chandeliers, some bigger than trucks. Vera de Ladoucette, an energy analyst with the Cambridge Energy Research Associates who was here to observe the summit, said: “This shows a new dimension to OPEC, which is the environment. This could be a defensive stance to improve their image. But also, a way of acting against anything that might reduce demand for oil.”

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/19/bu...19opec.html?hp

OPEC Interested in Non-Dollar Currency

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday that OPEC's members have expressed interest in converting their cash reserves into a currency other than the depreciating U.S. dollar, which he called a "worthless piece of paper." His comments at the end of a rare summit of OPEC heads of state exposed fissures within the 12-member cartel — especially after U.S. ally Saudi Arabia was reluctant to mention concerns about the falling dollar in the summit's final declaration.

The hardline Iranian leader's comments also highlighted the growing challenge that Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, faces from Iran and its ally Venezuela within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. "They get our oil and give us a worthless piece of paper," Ahmadinejad told reporters after the close of the summit in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. He blamed U.S. President George W. Bush's policies for the decline of the dollar and its negative effect on other countries. "All participating leaders showed an interest in changing their hard currency reserves to a credible hard currency," Ahmadinejad said. "Some said producing countries should designate a single hard currency aside from the U.S. dollar ... to form the basis of our oil trade."

Oil is priced in U.S. dollars on the world market, and the currency's depreciation has concerned oil producers because it has contributed to rising crude prices and has eroded the value of their dollar reserves. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah had tried to direct the focus of the summit toward the question of the effect of the oil industry on the environment, but he continuously faced challenges from Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Iran and Venezuela have proposed trading oil in a basket of currencies to replace the historic link to the dollar, but they had not been able to generate support from enough fellow OPEC members — many of whom, including Saudi Arabia, are staunch U.S. allies.

Both Iran and Venezuela have antagonistic relationships with the U.S., suggesting their proposals may have a political motivation as well. While Tehran has been in a standoff with Washington over its nuclear program, left-wing Chavez is a bitter antagonist of Bush. During Chavez's opening address to the summit on Saturday, the Venezuelan leader said OPEC should "assert itself as an active political agent." But Abdullah appeared to distance himself from Chavez's comments, saying OPEC always acted moderately and wisely. A day earlier, Saudi Arabia opposed a move by Iran on Friday to have OPEC include concerns over the falling dollar included in the summit's closing statement after the weekend meeting. Saudi Arabia's foreign minister even warned that even talking publicly about the currency's decline could further hurt its value.

But by Sunday, it appeared that Saudi Arabia had compromised. Though the final declaration delivered Sunday did not specifically mention concern over the weak dollar, the organization directed its finance ministers to study the issue. OPEC will "study ways and means of enhancing financial cooperation among OPEC ... including proposals by some of the heads of state and governments in their statements to the summit," OPEC Secretary General Abdalla Salem el-Badri said, reading the statement. Iran's oil minister went a step further and said OPEC will form a committee to study the dollar's affect on oil prices and investigate the possibility of a currency basket.

"We have agreed to set up a committee consisting of oil and finance ministers from OPEC countries to study the impact of the dollar on oil prices," Gholam Hussein Nozari told Dow Jones Newswires. Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani said the committee would "submit to OPEC its recommendation on a basket of currencies that OPEC members will deal with." He did not give a timeline for the recommendation. The meeting in Riyadh, with heads of states and delegates from 12 of the world's biggest oil-producing nations, was the third full OPEC summit since the organization was created in 1960. The run-up to the meeting was dominated by speculation over whether OPEC would raise production following recent oil price increases that have approached $100. But cartel officials have resisted pressure to increase oil production and said they will hold off any decision until the group meets next month in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

They have also cast doubt on the effect any output hike would have on oil prices, saying the recent rise has been driven by the falling dollar and financial speculation by investment funds rather than any supply shortage. During his final remarks, el-Badri stressed he was committed to supply — but did not mention changing oil outputs. "We affirm our commitment ... to continue providing adequate, timely, efficient, economic and reliable petroleum supplies to the world market," he said.

Source: http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5g...-1F8wD8T0AC6G0

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