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Oil Prices Reach a Record High


Government energy ministers from oil-rich nations and international oil company executives are attending a three-day International Energy Forum in Rome. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome the meeting, which ends Tuesday, is being held as crude oil prices reached a record high.

Participants at the oil summit in Rome do not seem to find agreement on what is causing the rise in oil prices. International Energy Agency head Nobuo Tanaka warned that current prices, which hit a record of $117 a barrel, are too high for all consumers and particularly punishing for developing nations.

Speaking at the biennial International Energy Conference, Tanaka said the problem is not underground, but above ground. He added that better infrastructure and more stable policies in producing countries are important to increase capacity and stressed the need for investment.

But OPEC and its member nations maintain that raising capacity is unlikely to have any impact. The Iranian Oil Minister Gholam-Hussein Nozari said more than enough oil is being supplied. He added that other issues are affecting oil prices like the dollar.

OPEC Secretary-General Abdalla Salem al-Badri has said the group is prepared to raise production if the price pressure is due to a shortage of supply - but also said he doubted the connection.

"There is a common understanding now that [oil prices] has nothing to do with supply and demand," he said.

The OPEC chief said more oil would not solve the high prices. Al-Badri added that OPEC's production levels are just one of many factors, while others included the political situation, market speculation, labor issues and natural catastrophes.

Italy's former prime minister Romano Prodi also spoke of his concern. He says what is taking place is a conflict between food and fuel, with disastrous social consequences. He adds that governments cannot just watch this happen.

In another industry development, Iraq Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani said contracts between the autonomous Northern Iraqi Kurds and foreign companies remain invalid, despite recent talks between the two sides to discuss the country's long-delayed federal oil law.

The Kurds have signed about 25 production-sharing contracts with several small and mid-sized oil companies, but Al-Shahristani said they do not meet the conditions of the draft 2007 law.

The draft law requires an open bidding process and would establish which foreign countries are eligible to work in Iraq. The dispute between the the central government in Baghdad and the Kurds has dragged on for many months, delaying agreement on a final oil law that Iraq badly requires to attract foreign investment and increase oil production.

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