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Aug 14 - 20, 2000

Venezuela's 'brave' man in Iraq on OPEC tour

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez arrived in Iraq on Thursday for the first face-to-face meeting of a head of state with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein since the 1991 Gulf War.

His visit comes in defiance the United States, a major importer of Venezuelan oil, which is still trying to keep Saddam isolated a decade after his forces invaded Kuwait, sparking the 1990-91 Gulf crisis.

Chavez crossed into Iraq from Iran by car at the Monthuriyah border post, where he was received by Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

Stringent United Nations sanctions, imposed since Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, ban international flights to and from Iraq.

After a red-carpet welcoming ceremony, the president was flown to Baghdad, 180 km (115 miles) to the southwest, by an Iraqi military helicopter for a meeting with Saddam.

The exact time and location of the meeting were not known but Chavez was expected to hold a news conference on Baghdad at 1400 GMT.

Chavez's visit was part of a tour of all 10 fellow OPEC states to promote the cartel's first summit in 25 years on September 27-29 in Caracas. He is also discussing OPEC production levels amid bullish world oil prices.

Washington said earlier this week it was "deeply concerned" that the Venezuelan leader would become the first elected head of state to meet the Iraqi president since the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

In Tehran earlier on Thursday, Chavez defended his plan to visit Iraq. "We are an independent and free nation and no one can tell us what to do. this is a great disrespect to a great nation," he told a news conference.

The Venezuelan president, accompanied by his Energy Minister and OPEC chief Ali Rodriguez, has already been this week to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Iran.

Arafat in Moscow to seek Russian support

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat arrived in Moscow on Thursday as part of a flurry of foreign trips aimed at drumming up support for his plan to declare an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

An old friend of Moscow from Soviet days, Arafat can expect a warm welcome and a sympathetic hearing from President Vladimir Putin, who wants to revive Russian influence in the Middle East.

But Russian diplomats have also indicated they will try to discourage Arafat from making any unilateral moves which could inflame tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Arafat will meet Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on Friday before leaving for Finland and Norway.

Israel strongly opposes Arafat's plan to declare an independent state on September 13, the deadline for a peace treaty between the two sides. The Jewish state regards the whole of Jerusalem as its "eternal" capital.

"Russia firmly intends to make its contribution to the search for compromises and mutually acceptable decisions (in an Israeli-Palestinian settlement)," Putin's special envoy to the Middle East, Vasily Sredin, told Interfax news agency.

Sredin sounded a cautious note on Arafat's plan to declare independence irrespective of whether there is a peace deal.

"Russia supports and will support the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to create their own state," he said.

"But Russia has consistently said that all the possibilities for the peace process should be explored to the very end...The Palestinians' state should grow out of negotiations.

"Only then can the stability and authority (of the new state) be guaranteed, and thereby the stability and security of all countries in the Middle East," Sredin said.

Saudis on track to pump extra 500,000 bpd oil

Saudi Arabia is on track to pump an extra half a million barrels of oil per a day (bpd) into the world market by the end of this month, and is prepared to provide more supplies if necessary to lower crude prices, a US oil source told Reuters on Wednesday.

Saudi supplies have taken longer than expected to arrive because Saudi Arabia has struggled to find buyers for the extra oil, as customers were waiting for crude prices to fall further, said the US oil source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The kingdom now has the commitments it needs to put the additional 500,000 bpd into the market and new supplies should be arriving in the US market at the end of August and early September, according to the source. "We think the Saudis have basically found people to buy it (the oil)," the source said. "We think the Saudis are doing what they said they were going to." If oil prices do not decline as a result of the new supplies, the Saudis are prepared to pump even more oil, according to the source.

Brent oil price rises to $30

The price of Brent quality North Sea oil was being quoted at 30 dollars a barrel on Wednesday in response to an announcement on Tuesday that oil stocks in the United States had fallen.

The price of Brent oil for September delivery was 30 dollars, from 29.80 dollars when the market opened and 30.15 dollars during trading, and 28.90 dollars at the close on Tuesday.

The price of 30.15 dollars was the highest since July 14.

Syria, Iraq to boost annual trade to $1 b

Syria and Iraq are planning to double their annual trade exchange to $1 billion, Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Mahdi Saleh said on Tuesday after the first trade meetings between the two countries in 20 years.

"We are looking forward to increasing our trade exchange to over $1 billion annually and of course that would be in accordance with the UN oil-for-food programme," Saleh told reporters after signing minutes of meetings of the joint Syrian-Iraqi commission of economy and trade.

"We would even further increase our trade exchange with Syria and other Arab countries, hopefully, once the sanctions are lifted.

"Iraq's revenues from oil exports could reach about $30 billion annually," he said.

Sudan starts exporting butane gas

Sudan has begun exporting butane gas with an initial shipment of 3,600 tonnes leaving Port Sudan to international markets last Friday, a senior energy official said in remarks published Tuesday.

Energy and Mining Secretary General Hassan Mohamed Ali Al-Toam said a recently inaugurated Chinese-built refinery is producing 550 tonnes of butane gas a day while the country consumes 130 tonnes a day.

He was quoted in Khartoum newspapers as saying the surplus gas is being exported by local oil companies, adding that his ministry is planning to build a gas-fuelled power house that yields 200 megawatts of electricity.

Saudi bourse edge up

The Saudi stock market, which has been hovering around highs not seen since September 1992, edged up again in the week ending Thursday on the back of increased oil prices, investment specialist Bakheet Financial Advisors said.

The NCFEI all-shares index closed at 2,197.45 points, up 1.3 per cent from 2,168.35 points on August 3 and eight per cent up on the year, said the Riyadh-based firm.

Jordan urges use of 'peaceful' nuclear energy

Jordan stressed the necessity to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes such as fighting desertification and digging for new water resources.

Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Wa'el Sabri, who returned to Amman Tuesday after heading Jordan's delegation to the 12th meeting of Arab Atomic Energy Association concluded in Tunisia Monday, delivered a speech in which he called for using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes which include so many things such agriculture research, scientific experiment, development water resources management and fighting desertification and drought.

Egypt shares plummet

Cairo shares took another dive on Tuesday as most stock prices hit new year-lows, with no hint of any positive news in the short term, brokers said.

Selling in stocks drove the benchmark Hermes index close to its lowest level in four years, plummeting 270.88 points, or 3.53 per cent, to 7,401.39.

The broader CIBC index ended off 0.8 points, or 1.03 per cent, to 77.18. Prime's Pami index fell 279.7 points, or 3.57 per cent, to 7,561.5.

Respect quotas

Oman's Oil Minister Mohammad bin Hamad Al-Romhi urged OPEC member states on Tuesday to respect their output quotas and not to raise oil production unilaterally.

Romhi, whose country is not a member of OPEC but coordinates closely with the oil cartel, called on members "to respect the production quotas agreed in June" at a conference in Vienna, the official news agency ONA reported.

Foreign advisers

Qatar Fertilisers Company (Qafco) said on Tuesday it had appointed foreign financial and legal advisers for a multi-million dollar expansion of its facilities in Mesaieed, 48 km south of the capital Doha.

French bank Societe Generale was selected as financial adviser while UK law firm Norton Rose was chosen as legal adviser for the fourth phase expansion of Qafco-4, a Qafco official told Reuters.

BAE in talks with Saudi

British defence group BAE Systems is holding talks with Saudi Arabia on setting up a joint venture to transform their long-standing relationship, the Sunday Times reported.

The British group, formerly known as British Aerospace, is believed to be planning to create a private sector company with the Saudi authorities to be owned 51 per cent by a Saudi group and 49 per cent by BAE, the newspaper said.

Bahrain Telecom

Bahrain Telecommunications Co. (Batelco) profits in the first six months of 2000 soared 25 per cent to 27.7 million dinars (72.6 million dollars) from the same period last year.

Qatar aims to raise oil output

Qatar aims to increase its crude oil production capacity to one million barrels per day (bpd) from the current level of around 756,000 bpd, the Middle East Economic Survey (MEES) reported Monday.

The Cyprus-based specialist newsletter said the Qatar General Petroleum Corp. has opened talks with foreign companies operating in the OPEC member state on expanding the capacity of upstream operations, both onshore and offshore.

The biggest contributor to the 30 per cent boost in capacity is likely to come from the onshore Al-Shahin field operated by Maersk Oil of Denmark, MEES said.

ABC

Arab Banking Corporation (ABC)'s first-half net profit in 2000 grew 12 per cent compared to the same period last year. The Bahrain-based investment group, recorded net profits of 67 million dollars in the first half of 2000, up from 60 million dollars last year.

Iraq in market for passenger planes

Sanctions-hit Iraq is holding negotiations with a foreign company for the purchase of new civilian passenger aircraft, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

"Negotiations are underway with a company to buy modern planes," Maamun Mohieddin Nasseri, director general of Iraq's civil aviation department, told the weekly Al-Rafidain.

Syria urged to speed up economic reforms

Investors have welcomed Syria's plans to reform its state-dominated economy, but more needs to be done to help the ailing private sector and key industries such as textiles and agro-foods, an EU official said on Tuesday.

David Wightman, director of the EU-funded Syrian-European Business Centre (SEBC), told Reuters in an interview that protectionism, trade regulations and financial restrictions had hampered business development in Syria in the past.

But, he said investors were optimistic about newly elected President Bashar Al-Assad's pledge last month to modernise the economy and that some progress had already been made.

"Businessmen are optimistic, but they are really looking forward to seeing an acceleration of change in Syria," he said.

He cautioned, though, that reforms should not be carried out in a way that upset the country's social structure, for instance by increasing income gaps.

US doubts Egyptian economic forcasts

Egyptian government projections of the country's economy sustaining a 6 per cent growth level are overly optimistic, according to a report by the US embassy in Cairo received by AFP Monday.

The Economic Trends Report, a midyear report, argued that despite its commitment to economic reform "the Government of Egypt remains optimistic in its projection of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth, anticipating around 6 per cent for fiscal year 1999-2000". GDP growth rate reached 6 per cent during 1998-99 and 5.7 per cent the previous year.

Syria, Lebanon discuss agriculture and tourism ties

Syria and Lebanon moved closer towards creating a common market Monday when President Bashar Al-Assad ratified an agreement liberalising their trade in agricultural goods, officials here said. At present, Syria forbids the import of Lebanese agricultural produce, while the Lebanese complain that Syrian produce is smuggled in.

The agreement, signed last October, provides for duty to be imposed on 17 types of produce, which will "be gradually lowered" over five years.

Air Algerie resumed flights to Libya

Algerian national carrier Air Algerie resumed flights to Tripoli on Sunday over a year after the United Nations lifted an eight-year air embargo on Libya.

"The first flight by Air Algerie arrived at Tripoli International Airport," Libyan state-run radio, monitored in Tunis, reported.