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Oil Minister: OPEC May Cut Output

March 9, 2004

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will consider cutting its production by another 1 million barrels per day, Venezuela’s oil minister said Tuesday.

A production cut, coming after one announced last month, could push U.S. gas prices higher. The national average is now about $1.73 a gallon.

Separately, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez assured oil company executives on Tuesday that economic ties with the United States would remain strong despite political differences between his government and the Bush administration.

At its Feb. 10 meeting, OPEC decided to slash one million barrels of oil per day, starting April 1, from its total output of 24.5 million barrels to try to keep oil prices stable when warmer weather erodes demand in the United States and other major importing countries.

The Venezuelan oil minister, Rafael Ramirez, said OPEC ministers who meet on March 31 may decide to make additional cuts.

``It could be,″ Ramirez replied when asked about another cut. ``We have to look at the opinion ... inside of OPEC.″

Ramirez said OPEC is seeking to reduce overproduction. At the cartel’s last meeting, members agreed to eliminate 1.5 million barrels per day that exceeds quotas.

Chavez, speaking Tuesday to executives involved in the development of natural gas fields in eastern Venezuela, said economic ties with the United States would remain strong.

``Look at how important this commercial relationship is,″ Chavez said.

The United States is Venezuela’s top trade partner and Venezuela provides about 15 percent of U.S. oil imports, but diplomatic relations between Caracas and Washington have been tense.

Chavez has repeatedly warned the United States not to meddle in Venezuela’s domestic affairs. On Sunday, he vowed to halt oil exports to the U.S. and wage a ``100-year war″ if Washington ever tried to invade Venezuela.

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