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Naimi Likely Attending Last OPEC Meeting

April 22, 2003

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) _ Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi’s participation in Thursday’s Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries emergency meeting will likely be his last as oil minister, a Saudi official said Tuesday.

Naimi, who has held the important post for eight years, is expected to be excluded from a new Saudi Cabinet to be formed May 3, according to local reports.

According to Saudi law, Cabinet members cannot serve more than one four-year term unless King Fahd reappoints them. Having done so once, the monarch isn’t expected to reappoint Naimi again.

``So he will pay farewell to his colleagues in the coming meeting of OPEC (in Vienna, Austria),″ the official said on condition of anonymity.

Saudi Arabia’s OPEC representative, Suleiman al-Harbesh, has been mentioned privately as a possible candidate to take over from Naimi, the official said.

Naimi was appointed oil minister on Aug. 2, 1995 and reappointed in a limited Cabinet shake-up on June 16, 1999.

A few months ago, Naimi denied widespread rumors he was resigning. ``Ministers don’t resign in Saudi Arabia,″ he said at the time.

The official also said Saudi Arabia will be flexible in its position during Thursday’s OPEC meeting and will agree with most cartel members if they decide to trim production to keep prices from falling out of the desired range.

OPEC members agreed in January to a 24.5 million barrel daily output target. The cartel’s president, Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah, has said he believes the world is oversupplied by 2 million barrels a day.

By some estimates, OPEC’s 10 members excluding Iraq were pumping an average of 26.2 million barrels a day last month _ 7 percent above their quotas.

Light sweet crude traded Tuesday at $29.91 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, down 96 cents from Monday. Prices topped out less than 20 cents short of $38 a barrel on March 12, a week before the war in Iraq began.

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