In a chart in yesterday's editions of The Washington Post, some countries were incorrectly identified as members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The members of OPEC are: Ecuador, Gabon, Qatar, Algeria, Indonesia, Venezuela, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, United Arab Emirates.
After a week of preliminary maneuvering that sent oil prices up sharply, the world's major petroleum exporting nations today began intense bargaining among themselves our yet another round of increases for consuming countries in 1980.
Oil ministers from the 13 members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries opened their year-end formal price-setting meeting today in open discord on how much they should charge consumers and with little apparent hope of returning to a single-price system in the near future.
The outcome expected Tuesday, could be a spread of prices ranging from $25 to $30 a barrel for OPEC's 31 million barrels a day of production.
Oil industry analysts said such a range could result in an average new price of about $26.50 for OPEC oil and an increase of about 10 cents per gallon for American motorists by the end of January.
The OPEC ministers appeared determined to stay out of the bitter quarrel involving Iran, an Opec member, and the United States, which has asked all nations to try to persuade the government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to release the 50 Americans held hostage in Tehran.
Speaking to journalists in the corridors of the luxury hotel housing the Opec conference, several oil ministers said it would discuss neither President Carter's appeal for international help nor Iran's campaign to get expressions of solidarity from Moslem and oil producing nations.
"Oil ministers are very bad diplomats," Algerian Energy Minister Belkacem Nabi said, when asked if the hostage question would be discussed, "We talk only numbers and prices here. It is up to foreign ministers to discuss such things and there is none here."
Iran's oil ministeer, Ali Akbar Moinfar, has been accepted by his colleagues from Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia without any evident misgivings. He in turn has not pressed Iranian appeals for condemnation of the United States, preferring instead to underline Iran's common interests with other OPEC nations.
At a press conference yesterday, for example, he describd the U.S. oil boycott against Iran as "the first time in the history of OPEC that a consumin country has imposed an embargo."
Moinfar also said Iran would not ask other OPEC members to join Tehran in refusing dollars for payment of oil purchases.
Shortly before the OPEC conference formally opened in a hotel ballroom this morning, Moinfar put the cap on a series of preconference price increases by announcing that Iran was raising the price of its crude oil exports by $5 a barrel from the current $23.50. Moinfar asserted that Iran is producing 3.5 million barrels a day.
Opec prices have been in disarray since June, when the organization formally adopted a floor price of $18 and a ceiling of $23.50 that has been broken by some producers in recent months as uncertainty over the Iranian crisis has driven spot market prices up to $40 a barrel.
The range in which new OPEC prices are likely to fall appears to have been traced by last week's rises, begun by Saudi Arabi on Thursday. OPEC's largest produced announced that it had gone from the floor price to $24 in a move to establish a new floor for the first half of 1980. The Saudis are now reliably reported to be ready to emerge from the Caracas meeting setting a price no higher than $25. They export 9.5 million barrels a day.
The Saudi move was challenged here yesterday by Libya, which raised its price to $30 a barrel and suggested that it would seek A $35 ceiling.
Nabi, the Algerian representative, noting that his country and Libya had maintained a surcharge of at least $5.50 above the floor price, said that Algeria would now consider whether to maintain or enlarge the surcharge above whatever new floor price OPEC fixes.
The current average world market price for OPEC oil before the Caracas meeting was estimated at $22, an increase of more than 60 percent over the benchmark price set in December 1978.
Venezuelan President Luis Herrera Campins opened today's session by sharply criticizing OPEC members for selling increasing amounts of oil in the spot market and called on them "to put order in the international oil market. The present confusion tends to separte us and weaken us while the multinational petroleum companies fill their pockets," he said.
The loss of price discipline is only one of several major political and financial questions confronting OPEC members at this 55th semi-annual meeting. Libya, Kuwait and Iran have publicly issued separate calls for effective production ceilings that will enable the cartel to keep prices high even if a surplus develops in world markets next year. There has been heavy stockpiling by consuming nations in anticipation of the new price increases and because of the trouble in Iran.
The oil producers must also consider their relations with the rest of the developing world, which can be expected to press for increase aid flows.