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OPEC chief says Bush comments put cartel in "bind"

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, Mar 1 (Reuters) US President George W Bush's call to slash US imports of Mideast oil puts OPEC in ''a bind'' with its largest customer, but the cartel will continue doing business with the United States, OPEC's president said on Wednesday.

In his State of the Union address to Congress in January, Bush set a goal for the United States to reduce its purchases of oil from Middle East suppliers, mostly OPEC members, by 75 percent by 2025.

Those comments could be used by some ministers from OPEC, or the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, to push for an oil production cut at the cartel's March 8 meeting.

''It puts us in a bind,'' OPEC President Edmund Daukoru said in an interview with Reuters.

However, Daukoru, who is also Nigeria's petroleum minister, sees the oil cartel doing business with the United States for the foreseeable future.

We've got to keep talking to the big buyer,'' said Daukoru, referring to the United States, which every day consumes about one out of every four barrels of the world's crude supply. ''The big producer (OPEC) and the big buyer have to talk. There are no two ways about it.'' Daukoru was scheduled to do just that later on Wednesday when he meets with US Energy Secretary Sam Bodman at Energy Department headquarters. He will also meet with other administration officials and members of Congress this week.

Bush's call to cut back on Mideast oil was particularly bothersome to Saudi Arabia, OPEC's biggest producer, which is increasing its oil production capacity at the urging of the world's biggest oil consumers, including the United States.

While Bush's comments may have caused consternation among OPEC members, Daukoru said he believes the president's opinions ''are sincerely held'' and he appreciates Bush's straight talk.

''The good thing about the Bush administration is that it's very outspoken, very clear cut. There is no fudging the issues,'' he said.

''It is easier when we know how the Bush administration feels, because the U.S. economy drives the rest of the world.

So it is good to know exactly, not in diplomatese'' the administration's position on issues, Daukoru said.

Still, he said the United States should not turn ''its back'' on the Middle East, even if Bush believes the region is ''too hot to depend upon to provide fuel ... It is hot, but who else can play the role to cool it?'' ''Just as OPEC owes a responsibility ... to stabilize the market, so we believe that the U.S. has a lot of responsibility to stabilize the global system, in a way that no other nation has the capacity to do,'' Daukoru said.

REUTERS DH RAI0032

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