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Opec dismissed further calls to boost oil output from top consumer the United States, saying the global market is well supplied and the producer group has little control over oil prices near $90 a barrel.
US Energy Secretary Sam Bodman on Saturday urged top exporter Saudi Arabia and Opec to raise supply on a visit to the Kingdom. His appeal came just days after President Bush asked the group for more oil on a separate visit to Riyadh, and less than two weeks before Opec's next meeting on February 1.
"I don't think there is a need to increase because the market is well supplied," Qatar's Oil Minister Abdullah Al Attiyah told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) is keeping a close eye on the market and stood ready to pump more when needed, Opec Secretary-General Abdullah Al Badri said.
"If we reach the conclusion the fundamental data warrant an increase in production, then our oil ministers will not hesitate to decree this," Al Badri told German weekly magazine Der Spiegel in an interview published on Saturday.
"But at present we see no need for this."
Bodman and Bush, concerned about the impact of high prices on the world's largest economy, have said more oil would help ease tight supplies.
"It's important there's an increase in supply," Bodman said ahead of a meeting with Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al Naimi on Saturday. "The figures would indicate a call for increased supply."
A statement from the Saudi Press Agency after the meeting said the two had agreed on the importance of well-balanced and stable oil markets, but gave no further details.
Saudi Arabia is Opec's most influential member and the only one among its 13 members able to boost supply significantly at short notice. The group produces more than a third of the world's oil.
Opec officials say that speculation has divorced the oil price from market fundamentals, leaving it with little power to tame high energy costs.
"You have to segregate the physical market from the paper market," Al Attiyah said on Sunday. "We've checked with our clients and they've confirmed that they don't feel there is a need for more oil. Oil inventories are comfortable."
Al Attiyah said he would meet with Bodman later this week. Last week, he said the producer group needed to be cautious ahead of the seasonal drop in consumption in the second quarter and because of the possible effect on oil demand of a US recession.
US crude settled at $90.57 a barrel on Friday, having fallen from a record of over $100 earlier this month.
Qatar is one of Opec's smallest oil producers, with output of around 800,000 barrels per day. (Reuters)
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