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Iran Says OPEC Could Accept Russia As Member

Iran's Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari (file photo)
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran's oil minister has suggested the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) would accept Russia as a member if Moscow wanted to join the 12-member oil producers' group, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

Gholamhossein Nozari, speaking a few days before the cartel is due to meet in Vienna on March 15, also reiterated a call for more cooperation between OPEC and non-OPEC countries. Iran is the world's fourth-largest oil producer.

Oil prices have plunged about $100 a barrel since a peak of $147 in July as a global economic downturn hit fuel demand, despite a series of production cuts by OPEC in the last six months.

Russia is the world's second-largest oil exporter.

"The ground is ready in OPEC to accept Russia as a new member, but, of course, countries request membership by evaluating and considering their own interests," Fars quoted Nozari as saying late on March 10. He did not elaborate.

In December, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said his country may choose to decide to become an OPEC member in the future as it seeks to broaden cooperation with the group.

"Our message is that non-OPEC [countries] should join OPEC [in helping the market] and we emphasize that a price lower than the current one does not have a justification at all and it stops development," Nozari said, according to Fars.

"It is not logical that OPEC cuts its exports and non-OPEC [countries] pursue their interests," he was quoted as saying during a visit to southwestern Iran.

This month, Nozari said he did not expect a further OPEC reduction decision in Vienna after Iran had previously suggested OPEC could impose more curbs. He did, however, call for a mechanism to underpin prices.

The group has already agreed to cut production by 4.2 million barrels per day since September, and a Reuters survey found that members have met 81 percent of their output reductions as of last month.