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OPEC to Boost Production Targets,  Blames High Price on Speculation


OPEC Secretary General Abdalla Salem el-Badri says the cartel plans to boost its oil production targets by five million barrels a day by 2012. He was speaking on the final day of the International Energy Forum held in Rome. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from the Italian capital.

Speaking on the sidelines of the international energy forum in Rome, Abdalla Salem el-Badri said that members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries are planning to spend $160 billion during the next four years to boost production capacity.

The OPEC Secretary General was speaking after crude oil futures rose to an all-time high, more than $118 a barrel, boosted by supply instability. He insisted that oil prices are decided by the market and implied that OPEC could do nothing to solve the current problem.

"This conference has nothing to do with oil prices; this conference is only a platform for producers and consumers to talk about many issues," el-Badri said. "But to decide on a price, I think nobody can decide the price, the market will decide the price."

U.S. acting Deputy Secretary of Energy Jeffrey Kupfer said oil prices are clearly too high. But he added it is important to keep the market well supplied and that OPEC should ensure sufficient supply in the market.

El-Badri has blamed a weak dollar and speculators for soaring oil prices, which are taking a heavy toll on economies worldwide. He has said OPEC members are investing to increase both production and refining capacity.

In a separate development at the forum, Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said again that contracts between the autonomous northern Iraqi Kurds and foreign companies are invalid.

"We do not recognize them and we have informed all the oil companies that these contracts have no standing," al-Shahristani said.

The Kurdish regional government has signed more than a dozen exploration and export contracts with 20 international companies since it passed its own oil law last August, angering the central government in Baghdad.

Shahristani also announced that Iraq would shortly increase production of oil. He said 35 companies from 16 countries that will be competing in the first licensing round, which will be announced in the summer. He added that with the development of the fields through this bid, another 1.5 million barrels will be added to the 2.5 million barrels being produced.

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