An oil glut engineered by Saudi Arabia will continue until other petroleum-exporting countries agree to a lower, uniform oil price that is increased gradually through a formula linked to inflation, the Saudi oil minister said yesterday.
But Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, in an appearance on "Meet the Press" (NBC, WRC), said he doubted that such an agreement will come out of the next meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries May 25. "It will take some time," he said, probably until 1982.
Yamani also said the Saudis still expect to purchase five advanced electronic surveillance aircraft from the United States as part of a package of military planes approved by the administration earlier this month.
He said he was not aware of Reagan administration attempts to persuade the Saudis to delay purchase of the surveillance planes, called AWACS, in order to forestall a political fight over the sale in Congress.
Opposition to the sale has been strong in Israel, where Prime Minister Menachem Begin faces a general election June 30. The Reagan administration reportedly is considering putting off the whole package until midsummer, after the Israeli elections, or holding back the AWACS while submitting the rest of the package to Congress. The proposed deal can be killed if both the Senate and the House vote to disapprove.
An Associated Press survey over the weekend found that, of 65 senators who have indicated some concern over the AWACS sale, 45 are inclined to vote against it. The AP reported that 34 of those were "firm" and 11 were "leaning."
The AP also reported that only 20 senators were leaning toward or committed to vote for the sale. Fifteen others were undecided or could not be reached.
Postponing sale of the Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft until after the Israeli elections "would be interfering in Israel," to help Begin win the election, Yamani said. "I don't think you intend to do that."
Yamani said U.S. refusal to give the surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia would be judged in the "context" of U.S.-Saudi relations, but he did not suggest any possible repercussions. He said he did not think the Saudis would "go to the Soviets" to obtain similar equipment.
In addition to the AWACS, the administration decided to sell Saudi Arabia fuel tanks that would extend range of the country's F15 fighters, as well as Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and tankers that can refuel planes in midair.
Of the Saudi oil policy, Yamani said the Saudis were trying to force the other 12 members of OPEC into a uniform price arrangement because that is in the long-term interests of both oil-producing and oil-consuming countries.
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, has been producing about 10 million barrels of oil a day since last year at $32 a barrel. Until recently, most other producers charged $36 or more.
Normal Saudi production is about 8.5 million barrels daily, and the country's extra production has led to a worldwide oversupply of petroleum. Several major producing countries have shaved prices in recent weeks because of the glut, and lower gasoline prices are changing up at pumps in the United States because of an oversupply of the fuel.
Saudi Arabia's vast oil reserves will last many years longer than those of other OPEC producers. As a result, Saudi Arabia wants to keep oil prices lower than most other producers desire to ensure that western oil-consuming nations do not move too fast in finding substitutes for oil.
But he told interviewers yesterday that suggestions that nations would wean themselves off oil during the 1980s and reduce the political power of the OPEC producers are "wishful thinking."
He said Saudi Arabia will not reduce its production or change its price until other oil-producing countries "come down on their prices." He said consuming countries must cooperate with Saudi Arabia by further reducing their demand for oil.
He said all consuming countries, including the United States, have done a "wonderful job" conserving oil, adding, "I hope you do more."
Saudi Arabia will have no objections to nations adding to their oil inventories once the Saudi pressure on OPEC results in lower prices and a long-term pricing policy for the oil cartel, Yamani said.
Saudi Arabia has put pressure on the United States not to add oil to the so-called strategic reserves the government wants to develop to ease shortages should another embargo be imposed or delivery disruptions occur, such as the one during the Iranian civil war.