Oil -- its abundance, its shortage and its politics -- connected two gatherings of finance ministers last night. In a gold-draped reception room of the Shoreham Hotel, the Arab finance ministers fingered grape leaves and surrounded their Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian colleagues for news of the Saudi oil production increase. On the top floor of the State Department, with its panoramic view of monumental Washington, the African finance ministers gathered, many anxious over their oil shortages caused by the Iraq-Iran war.
Actually the representatives of the dominant oil producers were reserved about yesterday's news that the Saudis were increasing their oil production temporarily to make up losses from Iran and Iraq.
"I understand the need and I think it was a good move but I don't think the oil supply was at a crisis point yet," said the Saudi finance minister, Muhammand Al Bolkhial. The Kuwaiti finance minister, Abdoul Rahman Salim Al-Ateegy, refused to discuss the issue. "That is for the Saudis to announce, not me," he said as he went off the join the Kuwait contigent. But the Kuwaiti ambassador, Khalid Jaffar, said, "We are not going to reduce, although we had planned to."
The geographical boundries of the Arab gathering, sponsored by the National Association of Arab Americans and the League of Arab States, went far beyond the oil cartel countries to Vietnam, grenada, and Mauritius. It had some added cachet with the presence of a Cabinet officer, Philip Klutznick of Commerce, and as the apparent midway point between two other parties for visiting finance ministers, held by the Zimbabweans and Chinese.
Turgut Ozal, the deputy prime minister of Turkey, said his country's main supplies from Irag had slowed. 'We have an oil pipeline. And we hear there has been some damage but we do not know exactly." Saboteurs had attacked a pipeline in Turkey this week. Afxent Afxentiou, the finance minister of Cyprus, said he hoped the Saudi plan to increase poduction works. "Part of our supplies come from Iraq."
At the State Department, the evening's host, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Richard Moose, had gotten an earful on the prices of oil.
"Four ministers told me Iraq had informed them they wouldn't get their monthy shipments. Now they have to go out in the spot market and these countries have very poor foreign reserves," said Moose. Somalia, for example, according to observers, is unable to move food to the 800,000 people in refugee camps because of a lack of disel.
And Perry Zulu, the Liberian finance minister, said the conflict was having an indirect effect at home. "All of our oil comes from Saudi Arabia. hBut our ships do travel along the Strait of Hormuz and if the lines are interrupted, we would suffer a great revenue loss."