VIENNA, DEC. 12 -- OPEC ministers, anxious to prevent a possible price collapse, heard a warning from their cartel's president today that the world would be "awash" with oil in the event of a peaceful resolution of the Persian Gulf crisis.
The ministers are holding their first meeting since an emergency session in late August, when the 13-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries temporarily suspended production quotas to maintain stable supplies in the face of a U.N. embargo against Iraq and Iraqi-annexed Kuwait.
Oil has shot up as high as $41 a barrel since then, but it tumbled back to around $25 last week as efforts intensified to avert war with Iraq. The price of a barrel of crude in New York closed today at $25.35, still above OPEC's target price of $21 a barrel.
Iranian Oil Minister Gholamreza Aqazadeh on Tuesday demanded that OPEC countries cut output by 400,000 barrels per day to return to suspended levels.
Delegates said this was not yet being seriously considered and OPEC was hamstrung against taking concrete action at present, given the still uncertain outcome in the gulf.
"We'll have to wait until the crisis is over," said Venezuelan Oil Minister Celestino Armas.
But a gulf delegate said ministers were in agreement on the need to convene another emergency meeting in the event of an oil price collapse, which he characterized as a fall to $18 a barrel or less. The current meeting was expected to conclude on Thursday with a formal reaffirmation of plans to return to previous production quotas and price ceilings when the crisis has passed.
Algerian Oil Minister Sadek Boussena, who is also the president of OPEC, said major industrialized countries had prevailed upon the 30-year-old cartel to push oil production "to extreme levels of output, even beyond the agreed ceiling." Boussena added, "The world will be awash with oil" if the crisis ends peacefully.
Last July, OPEC set an overall production quota of 22.5 million barrels per day, but announced on Aug. 29 that this was being set aside in the wake of the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
Production is currently estimated at 23 million barrels per day, with Saudi Arabia and Venezuela making up most of the shortfall caused by the lack of supplies from Iraq and Kuwait.
However, a resumption of exports by these two states would exacerbate a drop in demand already noted by the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based body of 21 consumer countries. While a dramatic price fall would be a boon to the United States and other Western economies, heading into recession, it would meet with opposition from most producer states.