VIENNA — OPEC oil ministers agreed Thursday to keep their production target steady, in a compromise meant to defuse rivalries between Iran and Saudi Arabia and to send a soothing message to economically troubled consuming nations.
Oil prices have fallen more than 20 percent over the past two months, and a statement from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries citied “downside risks facing the global economy” and ample stocks of crude as being responsible for the trend.
While agreeing to hold the output target steady, however, the statement suggested that OPEC ministers were ready to come together on short notice if prices fell to levels dictating a production cutback. OPEC accounts for about a third of world crude production, and its decision Thursday corresponded with its professed goal of taking volatility out of global oil markets. With the economies of Europe, the United States and even China seeing a slowdown, keeping production targets steady at a time of falling prices was meant to reassure consuming nations that they do not need to fear the added burden of expensive energy.
Saudi-Iranian tensions are an embarrassment to OPEC, and Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi refused to answer questions on the issue as he prepared to join the meeting Thursday. But he earlier denied tightening the screws on Iran by selectively providing crude to consumers honoring the Iran embargo.