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Russia and Saudi Arabia pursue Opec deal at World Cup summit

Putin and Saudi prince to discuss boosting oil output and the quantum and the timing of the increase

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Opec members are to meet in Vienna on June 22 to discuss raising output. The 24-member organisation had in 2016 agreed to curb output by 1.8 million barrels a day in order to eliminate a supply glut. Prices have since rallied to almost US$80 a barrel. But Opec is deeply divided on where to go from here.

Moscow

COME for the football, stay for the oil diplomacy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will discuss how to boost oil production while maintaining their petro-alliance when they meet in Moscow on Thursday to watch the soccer World Cup's opening match between their countries.

The world's largest oil exporters are discussing how to rework their unprecedented - and successful - deal to control oil production as US sanctions on Iran and the collapse of the Venezuelan petroleum industry threaten to send crude prices skyrocketing.

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They must also contend with President Donald Trump, who used his Twitter account on Wednesday to attack the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) for artificially inflating prices.

Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at consultant Energy Aspects Ltd, said: "This is the most political Opec meeting in a long time." Both Saudi Arabia and Russia have proposed plans for the so-called Opec+ group that would add as much as a million barrels a day or about 1 per cent of global output, although Riyadh prefers a smaller increase.

The back-and-forth signals major differences remain, even between Riyadh and Moscow, who have worked closely over the past two years. The two countries share a common view that production should increase gradually, but the precise volume of oil that could be returned to the market and the timing of the boost are still under discussion, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said in an interview in Moscow on Thursday.

He had talks with his Saudi counterpart Khalid Al-Falih late on Wednesday and the two will meet again on Thursday. Reaching a mutual understanding may prove easier than obtaining a wider agreement among the 24 countries bound by the agreement first struck in late 2016.

Opec meets in Vienna on June 22 and Iran, Venezuela and Iraq have publicly set themselves against a production increase.

Ed Morse, head of commodities research at Citigroup Inc in New York, said in a note to clients: "An output increase by the four main producers (Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and UAE) looks inevitable."

But less than 10 days before the meeting, the size and timing of any increases was still up in the air, he said.

Tehran illustrated the divide within the cartel on Wednesday when a senior official said that current production levels were adequate and the group shouldn't bow to US pressure.

Opec governor Hossein Kazempour Ardebili said in an interview: "The Trump administration is trying to intervene in the affairs of a sovereign organisation. Such attempts have failed in the past and they will also fail this time."

Russia and Saudi Arabia forged their unlikely alliance in 2016 after face-to-face meetings between Mr Putin and Mr Mohammed. The diplomatic opening paved the way for Moscow to join Opec in cutting production for the first time in more than a decade, with 24 countries agreeing to curb output by 1.8 million barrels a day in order to eliminate a supply glut that was weighing on prices. Since then, prices have rallied close to US$80 a barrel.

Many nations have gone further than their pledged cuts. Saudi Arabia said it was cutting deeper to lead by example. Others, notably Venezuela, have experienced involuntary declines in production due to problems in their oil industries. In May, the group's total reduction added up to almost 2.2 million barrels a day, said the International Energy Agency (IEA).

On Wednesday, the IEA said the combined output from Venezuela and Iran could fall a further 30 per cent next year due to US sanctions and economic upheaval. That's one reason the US is putting diplomatic pressure on Saudi Arabia and other Opec members to raise production, and thence lower gasoline prices, before the US votes in mid-term elections that could decide which party controls Congress.

Mr Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning: "Oil prices are too high, Opec is at it again. Not good!" BLOOMBERG