CUT OIL PRODUCTION – Iran urges OPEC

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Iran’s oil minister has called for today’s meeting of the OPEC oil cartel to cut production in order to raise prices above 60 dollars a barrel.

Speaking on Tuesday, Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh said that at their meeting in Nigeria today OPEC members should decide to cut production and bolster the price of crude.

‘Like most OPEC members, Iran does not consider oil prices lower than 60 dollars a barrel appropriate,’ said Hamaneh.

‘Given the considerable oil oversupply, we will try to have a production cut.’

Last Monday, the OPEC president and Nigerian Oil Minister Edmund Daukoru estimated that the current oversupply on the oil market is about one million barrels per day.

The OPEC chief said the cartel’s ministers would study all aspects of the market situation when they meet in Abuja today and ‘take the appropriate decision’.

At its last meeting in Qatar in October, OPEC approved a cut in its output quota of 1.2 million barrels a day to stem falling prices, which have dropped from above 78 dollars in July.

On Tuesday New York’s light sweet crude for January delivery rose 80 cents to 61.21 US dollars a barrel, while Brent North Sea crude for January was 62.04 dollars.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sparked uproar on Monday after an apparent slip of the tongue in which he, for the first time, listed Israel as a nuclear power.

Widely considered the Middle East’s sole nuclear power, Israel has for decades refused to admit or deny whether it possesses the atomic bomb.

But Olmert appeared to break the taboo in an interview with a German television station on Monday as he began a visit to Berlin.

‘We never threatened any nation with annihilation,’ Olmert claimed.

He continued: ‘Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map.

‘Can you say that this is the same level, when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as France, America, Russia and Israel?’

Olmert’s spokeswoman Miri Eisin was quick to deny that Olmert had admitted to Israel having nuclear weapons, claiming that ‘Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons to the region’.

The blunder came less than a week after Israeli officials rounded on the incoming US defence secretary Robert Gates for the same slip-up during his Senate confirmation hearings, leading to Israeli politicians calling on him to resign.

‘The staggering comments of Ehud Olmert only serve to reinforce the doubts on his capacity to remain prime minister,’ said MP Yossi Beilin.

Likud MP Yuval Steinitz called on Olmert to resign after ‘an irresponsible slip which puts into question a policy that dates back almost half a century’.

Scrambling to contain the damage, Israeli officials said Olmert’s slip would not change the decades-old policy of keeping silent on whether the country has atomic weapons.

‘I support the policy of ambiguity and I don’t see Olmert’s statement as a declaration that Israel has nuclear weapons,’ claimed Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer on army radio.

‘I would suggest that all those who want to talk about the issue, for God’s sake and for the sake of Israel’s security, stop it,’ he said.

But another senior government official said: ‘This is a real slip of the tongue which was not planned.

‘It is embarrassing for Israel particularly when it is dealing with such a sensitive issue. But this does not change a thing. Our policy stays the same.’

Observers warned that Olmert’s statement threatened to undercut efforts by Israel and its allies to prevent Iran from pursuing its nuclear programme.

The remarks ‘don’t change a thing because Israel’s policy of ambiguity has stopped being ambiguous because all world leaders assume Israel has an atomic bomb,’ said Yossi Melman, a leading Israeli journalist.

‘Now more than ever Israel should say nothing that could give more excuses for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons,’ he added.

Mordechai Vanunu, who served 18 years in jail after blowing the whistle on Israel’s nuclear programme in 1986, welcomed the remarks.

‘Olmert’s remark is nothing new, but it is a good thing that Israel decided to make it public,’ he said.

‘The world should now not only talk about Iran but also about Israel as a nuclear threat that has to be dealt with in order to make a nuclear free Middle East and bring peace.’

Israel’s policy of ‘nuclear ambiguity’ dates back to the early 1960s and an agreement struck with the United States and France under which the Zionist state would say nothing on the issue in order to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, retiring UN Secretary General Kofi Annan took a farewell jab at US foreign policy on Monday.

Annan chose the symbolic venue of the Independence, Missouri, library of late president Harry S Truman, whom he lionized as a ‘master-builder’ of the United Nations.

He lauded past US leadership in fighting for human rights, but warned: ‘that lead can only be maintained if America remains true to its principles – including in the struggle against terrorism.

‘When it appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends abroad are naturally troubled and confused,’ said Annan, who hands over to South Korea’s Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon on 31 December.

In an apparent reference to the US invasion of Iraq, Annan argued states which use military force must convince other countries such action is legitimate.

He warned no nation ‘can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all others’.

Meanwhile, in a report released on Monday, Annan argued that a ‘just and comprehensive’ Israeli-Palestinian settlement was the key to resolving other regional conflicts’ in the Middle East.

‘The various unresolved but increasingly interconnected conflicts in the region both feed and feed off a growing sense of estrangement between peoples of different faiths, with consequences throughout the world.’

Calling the failure to settle the ‘long-festering Arab-Israeli conflict . . . the major underlying source of frustration and instability in the region,’ he urged a ‘regional approach’ to resolve the interconnected crises and conflicts.

‘I am convinced that the search for stability in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere will be greatly served by a concerted effort to address the legitimate aspirations of Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese to achieve two independent and secure states of Israel and Palestine, an end to the occupation of Arab land both in the occupied Palestinian territory and the Golan Heights’ as well as peace in Lebanon, he noted.

Annan made it clear that he saw ‘an active and systematic third party role’ as essential to consolidate the current ceasefire in Gaza, promote ‘unconditional and open-ended talks’ between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and establish clear parameters for the settlement of final status issues such as the fate of Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees.

‘Ultimately, we are dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict, not that between Israel and the Palestinians alone.’

Annan reminded Israel that ‘comprehensive regional peace cannot be achieved without a return of the Golan Heights (seized in the 1967 Six Day War and unilaterally annexed in 1981) to Syria.’

‘As I leave office, it is a matter of deep personal regret that peace in the Middle East has not been achieved,’ he concluded.