RIYADH, Nov 16 (Reuters) Iran Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari said on Friday it was too early to predict what action OPEC might take when it meets in early December, leaving the door open for a possible production rise to cool prices.
Asked if he expected OPEC to raise output at its Dec. 5 meeting in Abu Dhabi, he told Reuters: ''It's too early to say, we will look at it in December.'' ''The oil price is not as high as it seems to be, due to the weakness of the U.S. dollar,'' Nozari said in an interview, echoing views that the falling greenback has bolstered the attraction of investing in the oil and commodities markets.
The dollar has been weakening since 2001, but its fall has hastened this year, spurring a wave of investment into the oil complex as a hedge against inflation. Oil has risen nearly 40 percent since mid-August, hitting a record .62 last week.
Nigeria's oil minister also said a production rise could be discussed in Abu Dhabi, but Venezuelan oil minister Rafael Ramirez, one of the group's traditionally hawkish members who favours higher prices, said there was no need for more oil.
Nozari was quoted earlier this week saying that oil supplies were sufficient and that more OPEC crude would not help bring down prices. On Friday he suggested that consumer nations lower fuel taxes if they wanted to ease the pain of near 0 oil.
''If they are really concerned about high oil prices affecting the economy, they have to do something about the tax level,'' he said.
Nozari also said that Iran was receiving close to 70 percent of its oil export revenues in non-dollar denominated currencies.
The amount varies monthly and that any future changes in how Iran prices its oil would depend on the performance of the dollar, said Nozari, who is in the Saudi capital for the OPEC heads of state, oil and finance ministers summit.
A senior official with National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) told Reuters in September that Iran, locked in a row with Washington over its nuclear work, aimed to raise oil export earnings in non-dollar currencies to 80 percent by end-October.
For nearly two years, the world's fourth-biggest oil exporter has been cutting its exposure to the dollar, saying the weak U.S. currency is eroding its purchasing power.
Nozari also said that nine companies had been selected for oil and gas exploration blocks in the latest round, including international companies and joint ventures with Iranian firms, and that some of them have already been awarded contracts.
Washington is piling pressure on Western oil firms to stay out of Iran and is pushing on with a third U.N. sanctions resolution against Tehran for its refusal to give up uranium enrichment, which the West says is for building atomic arms, but Iran insists is for power generation.
Nozari also said that Iran was in the final stages of negotiations on the Yadavaran oilfield, which potentially holds 3 billion barrels of oil, but he did not say when it would be completed.
Sinopec Group, parent of Sinopec Corp <0386.HK><600028.SS>, inked a preliminary pact with NIOC to develop the Yadavaran field three years ago, but has been unable to start work as commercial negotiations drag on.
REUTERS BJR RN1646