Col. Muammar Qaddati, the Libyan leader whose nation is the United States' third-largest foreign oil supplier, threatened to cut off all petroleum exports to the energy-starved West.
Qaddati made his threat in an interview with the Paris-based Arabic weekly Al Mustaqbal. It was released today at the end of Qaddati's tour of several Arab nations during which he was reported seeking agreement for use of the Arab oil weapon against the United States and other countries that support Israel.
"We shall stop producing oil - except what we need for our own domestic consumption - for two years, perhaps three or four," he said. "The more we store the oil in our ground, the better it will be for us."
There was no way to judge whether his declaration was only braggadocio or enunciation of a new Libyan policy.
Qaddafi, headstrong and impulsive, often has made flamboyant statements that never resulted in action. But he also has turned his Arab revolutionary ardor into concrete support for movements ranging from Palestinan guerillas to Philippine Moslem secessionists to Idi Amin's army.
Today's statement drew a skeptical reaction from oil company sources around the world. A spokesman for Conoco called such a cutoff "highly unlikely." U.S. officials pointed out that Libyan's oil minister who has attended the OPEC meeting in Geneva this week made no mention of ending oil exports.
Withdrawal of Libyan oil from the world would cut sharply into supplies in the United States and Europe. Libya produc-about 2 million barrels a day of high-quality crude and exports almost all of it, including about 500,000 barrels a day to the United States.