Iran, Venezuela Push for Higher Oil Prices

Just when American motorists were starting to get a little relief at the pump, OPEC -- the cartel of oil-producing nations -- decided to cut back production, a move that could stop oil's recent fall.

In the past two months, the price of oil has fallen nearly 30 percent from its July 3 high of $145 a barrel. As this week started, it looked as if oil could fall below the psychological barrier of $100 for the first time since beginning of March.

OPEC oil ministers agreed early this morning in Vienna, Austria, to cut output by more than 500,000 barrels a day.

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The move was a compromise between countries looking to keep oil prices high and others looking to give a struggling world economy some relief.

On one side are Iran and Venezuela, which want to squeeze as much money as possible out of the United States and other large oil consumers. On the other side of the fight is Saudi Arabia, with strong political ties to the United States and President Bush's family.

In the coming days, expect Washington politicians to lash out against Venezuela and Iran for trying to reduce to flow of oil.

"You don't get on the US's good side for calling for oil production cutbacks but Venezuela and Iran were scarcely on America's good side to begin with," said Jerry Paylor, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a Washington thinktank. "You'll probably see plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth over this because it's in everyone's interest to find easy scapegoats and there's no easier scapegoat in American politics than OPEC."

However, Paylor warns that there is absolutely no correlation between OPEC declarations about production cutbacks and actual OPEC behavior. In fact, most nations are producing as much oil as they can.

"There's a lot of evidence out there that OPEC is completely fraudulent. The only thing that real matters is the unilateral exercise of Saudi market power," he said.

And the Saudi's could simply choose to ignore the cartel's decision.

"For all the rhetoric from Iran and Venezuela about cutting back oil, you don't actually see the two countries reducing their output," Paylor said. "What you essentially have is Venezuela and Iran telling Saudi Arabia to quit producing so much."

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino in a briefing this morning said President Bush disagrees with OPEC's decision.

"We would like to see more oil on the market, not less," she said, adding that the president is calling on Congress to vote on additional drilling in the U.S.

Asked if the president plans to make any personal efforts to convince OPEC leaders to change their decision, she said: "Remember, it's not just the United States, but many other countries who have asked OPEC to make sure that those oil markets are well supplied."

"What President Bush is going to be focused on in the next three weeks is working with Congress in a bipartisan way, to the extent that we possibly can, to try to get a bill that would allow for more expanded production here in our own country," she added.

Oil analyst Stephen Schork, who was in Vienna to monitor the meeting, said Iran and Venezuela don't care about the economic impact of high oil prices.

"The world is having a tough time paying its bills, so let's raise the price," he said. "Typical Venezuela. Their talk is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs."

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