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Kuwait oil minister says OPEC fed up with Iraq

KUWAIT (Reuters) -- Kuwait's oil minister said on Friday that what he termed Iraq's ruling "thieves" were a threat to the oil-rich region and an obstacle within OPEC.

"This is a strange world. (Iraqi) thieves are now accusing the noble (Kuwait). This is our situation now with that regime," Sheikh Saud Nasser al-Sabah told reporters on his return home from OPEC meetings and a visit to France.

He was responding to claims on Thursday by Iraq, which occupied Kuwait for seven months in 1990-1991, that its much smaller neighbor was stealing oil from a border field.

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Kuwait has strongly denied the charge. It said it was producing 46,000 bpd for a well on its side of the border.

Baghdad also said that it would take unspecified measures against Kuwait to stop what it called sabotage, remarks which triggered a strong warning from the United States.

Washington said it was ready to use Gulf-based forces if Iraq took such action.

Iraq "is an obstacle to the stability in this region and its security, and is also an obstacle to OPEC operations," said Sheikh Saud, criticizing Iraq for blocking the election of a Saudi Arabian as OPEC's new secretary-general.

Iraq made similar allegations of oil theft before its troops invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, which led to the 1991 Gulf War, the ousting of Iraqi forces and imposition of international sanctions on Baghdad.

"We are concerned, of course," said Sheikh Saud who served as ambassador to Washington during the 1990-91 Gulf crisis.

Earlier on Friday, al-Rai al-Aaam newspaper quoted Sheikh Saud as saying in an interview in Paris that the international community would act to make Iraq comply with U.N. resolutions and end threats to neighbors.

"Wait for October, and see how things turn out...The issue (Iraq) has become annoying to all, to France, Britain, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran...

"The big powers will not allow Iraq to reject U.N. resolution 1284" which deals with the return of U.N. arms inspectors to Iraq, said the minister.

U.N. arms inspection operations in Iraq have been halted since December 1998 when the United States and Britain launched military strikes against Iraq.

Sheikh Saud accused Baghdad, with the aid of some countries which he did not name, of rebuilding its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and added: "I do not think world states will stand by with arms folded."

In Washington, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said the United States was deeply committed to stopping Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from threatening his neighbors or rebuilding his weapons of mass destruction.

"He has had times where he's miscalculated. But he should not miscalculate our resolve," he told reporters on Friday.

Inconsistent positions on production

The latest tension has triggered a fresh rally on oil markets, reversing some easing which followed a deal this week by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) -- which includes both Kuwait and Iraq -- to increase official output by 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) from October 1.

London Brent crude last traded at $33.90 a barrel while U.S. light crude was at $35.85 a barrel, having touched $36 a barrel -- the highest level since the Gulf War -- minutes before the close of business.

Iraq has also criticized the OPEC accord and said it was reached after Gulf War foe Saudi Arabia and Kuwait bowed to pressure from the United States.

The accusation also reminded officials here of language used in 1990.

Sheikh Saud dismissed earlier Iraqi statements on oil policy and said: "Iraq has two positions...Inside OPEC, it threatens to raise output and that it has the capacity to reach three million bpd. Our response was 'good for you' if you can reach three million.

"At the same time, Iraq (publicly) threatens that it would stop its oil production, I do not know which stand to believe."

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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