GENEVA (AP) _ OPEC ministers met today for the first time since the Persian Gulf War to consider halting excess oil production in an effort to lift crude prices higher in coming months.

But Saudi Arabia, the cartel's most important member, appeared to be resisting calls for sharp cuts.

Iranian Oil Minister Gholamreza Aqazadeh said the ''atmosphere is not very easy'' for the meeting of the 13-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Iraq, defeated in the six-week war, did not send a representative. Kuwait, freed of Iraqi invaders but its oil industry in tatters, was represented by deputy oil minister, Sulaiman al-Omani.

The ministers met for about an hour at midday, then agreed to resume closed-door discussions in the evening.

''We talked generally,'' said Yousef Omeir Bin Yousef, the oil minister for the United Arab Emirates.

Ginandjar Kartasasmita, the Indonesia minister, said no substantive discussions were held. ''It's too early to say anything,'' he said.

Shortly after the Iraq's August invasion of Kuwait, the cartel suspended its supply limits to pump extra oil and make up for the loss of 4 million barrels of Iraqi and Kuwaiti crude. The oil was embargoed by U.N. sanctions.

Led by Saudi Arabia, OPEC is producing an estimated 23 million barrels of oil a day. The Saudi kingdom alone is pumping about 8.4 million barrels.

Some producing nations worry that unless the cartel clamps down on output, crude prices will tumble this spring when demand for oil falls in the United States and other consuming nations.

The average price of an OPEC marker was $17.72 a barrel last week, well under the group's target of $21 a barrel.

Prices for light sweet crude in the United States and Europe generally run $1-2 a barrel higher.

Estimates of demand for the cartel's oil in the April-June quarter vary widely among the producing nations.

OPEC Secretary-General Subroto said the group's economists pegged demand at 21.4 million barrels a day. But he said estimates from the delegations ranged from 20.9 million barrels to almost 22.5 million barrels.

In advance of the meeting, several ministers suggested the cartel should pull off the market up to 2 million barrels of oil a day in the spring months.

But Gulf sources said Saudi Arabia opposes such a sizable reduction.

Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Hisham Nazer repeated today his doubts that the session, technically a monitoring committee meeting to review the markets, would be turned into a decision-making conference.

''We're just coming to a monitoring committee meeting. That's all,'' he told reporters Sunday evening shortly after arriving in Geneva.