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Aug 28 - Sep 03, 2000

Iran seeks $1.4bn investment in gas sector

Iran said on Tuesday it was seeking an additional $1.4 billion in buy-back foreign investment to develop its gas sector by March 2002.

Such an investment is hoped to increase the country's annual natural gas output by 17 billion cubic metres, Hamdollah Mohammad-Nejah, deputy oil minister and head of National Iranian Gas Company, told reporters.

He put current production at 63 billion cubic metres.

Iran holds about 16 per cent of the world gas reserves, or over 22 trillion cubic metres, but it only produces a little over two per cent of the global output.

Tehran has recently rushed to develop its gas fields, mainly offshore reserves it shares with Arab countries across the Gulf, including the giant South Pars field.

A US law threatening sanctions against foreign energy firms investing in Libya and Iran is set to expire in August of next year, and several European oil companies are already defying the law to take advantage of their US rivals' absence in Iran.

Mohammad-Nejah said Iran was wary of high costs for developing its fields.

"One of the our biggest limitations...is the high rate of investment required. There is a need for $850 million to $1 billion to develop each phase of South Pars," he said. "But we should develop South Pars as soon as possible."

Iran has a master plan to develop South Pars, the world's biggest gas reserve, in 25 phases. The first eight have been or are ready to be contracted out.

Iran needs to move fast with development projects to meet commitments made to export natural gas.

Current natural gas consumption is barely below annual production and Iran has already signed a deal to sell 228 billion cubic metres of gas to neighbouring Turkey over 25 years, starting July 2001.

Airbus experts arrive in Bahrain

Experts from Airbus Industrie, the maker of the Gulf Air jet which plunged into the sea off Bahrain killing all 143 aboard, arrived in Manama on Thursday to help investigate the disaster.

"The French and Airbus experts just arrived," a Gulf Air spokesman said in Manama. France's state Accident Investigation Bureau said earlier that it had sent two of its researchers to accompany four technical experts from Airbus Industrie.

No official reason has been given for the crash, which killed 143, but rescuers retrieved the plane's two black boxes, which record pilots' conversations.

In accordance with international rules, the technical investigation into the accident is being run by Bahrain, where the accident took place, with the help of experts from France, where the plane was registered, and from the craft's manufacturer.

A team from the US National Transportation Safety Board is also due to leave Thursday for Bahrain to assist the investigation.

Gulf Air Flight 072 from Cairo crashed into the water Wednesday on its third attempt at landing, according to Bahraini officials.

Relatives of Egyptians killed in a Gulf Air crash arrived in Manama on Thursday to identify loved ones who were among the 143 people killed when their plane plunged into the sea off Bahrain.

A Gulf Air spokesman told Reuters that 162 Egyptians, including clergy and a medical team, arrived on a special Gulf Air flight from Cairo to identify and claim the bodies from pictures being shown at a Manama hotel.

Clinton to push OPEC to lower oil prices

US President Bill Clinton said Wednesday that oil prices were too high and that they needed to drop to sustain economic growth, adding that he would discuss OPEC output with members of the oil cartel.

Speaking to reporters, Clinton said he would bring up the issue of OPEC oil output with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo during his visit to the African nation this weekend.

Nigeria is a member of OPEC and the cartel meets in Vienna on September 10 to discuss its new production levels.

US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, who has said the world market needs more oil supplies and has asked OPEC to consider increasing production, will travel with Clinton on his state visit to Nigeria.

Clinton said one of the problems in getting additional oil from OPEC was figuring out which cartel members have the capacity to pump more oil.

"We have to look where there is excess capacity...part of this is a question of whether the OPEC nations can increase their production," he said.

Jordan receives $50 m US grant

Jordan and the United States Wednesday signed an agreement at the Jordan's Planning Ministry whereby the US offers a $50 m grant to the Jordanian government to help support the balance of payment.

Planning Minister Jawad Hadid signed the agreement for Jordan and US Ambassador in Amman William Burns and Mrs Tony Christianseen, Director of the United States Agency for International Cooperation (USAID) in Amman signed it on behalf of the US. The grant, which is provided in the form of cash transfer to the treasury is an essential part of the USAID Economic Development Program to Jordan to help the Jordanian government finance some of its developmental projects and proceed in its economic reform plans designed encourage investment and stimulate trade activities .

Oil prices resume climb

Oil prices rallied strongly Wednesday as the latest figures from the American Petroleum Institute showed yet another slide in US crude oil stocks and OPEC showed no sign of alleviating the situation.

Benchmark Brent crude for October delivery was trading at 30.86 dollars a barrel, 93 cents higher.

Late Tuesday, prices briefly dipped as fears the massive refinery owned by Hovensa in St Croix in the Virgin Islands could be lashed by Hurricane Debby.

As the threat diminished, in New York light sweet crude for September delivery ended Tuesday's session at 31.22 dollars a barrel, 1.25 dollars lower.

Jordan, Libya sign water project agreement

Jordan and Libya have signed a cooperation agreement to carry out the Dissi water conveyance project to Amman at a total cost of about JD420 m., Water and Irrigation Minister Hatem Al-Halawani stated Monday.

The project is estimated to supply Amman and other districts in southern Jordan with 100 mcm of water a year. The agreement, which was concluded with " Brown and Rotz" Company in Libya includes an assessment of the project technical study and the type of pipes to be used .

Halawani, who has just returned to Amman after a four-day visit to Tripoli, said the Libyan side was ready to provide technical support to the project. This appeared during his talks with Libyan Prime Minister Mubarak Al-Shamekh and other to water officials, the Minister added.

Saudi conditionally ratifies women's rights treaty

Saudi Arabia has signed the Convention of Eradication of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), with reservations on two points, a newspaper reported Wednesday.

Abdel Aziz Sueigh, member of the kingdom's consultative council, told the London-based Asharq Al Awsat that the government ratified the convention Monday.

The government's reservations were twofold: the right of the woman to give her nationality to her children and the right to choose her husband freely, Sueigh said.

The first reservation contradicts Saudi law, which places naturalisation at the discrepancy of the authorities, and the second could technically allow a lesbian marriage, he said.

Cisco training Syrians

The Dubai office of computer networking giant Cisco Systems Inc has been training engineers from Syria, despite a ban on US companies exporting computers there, Al-Bayan newspaper reported Wednesday.

Washington bans US firms from exporting computers to Syria as well as Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Sudan.

"Twenty-four engineers from the (state-run) Syrian Telecommunications Establishment underwent a series of training programmes in February at Dubai Internet City, Cisco and Thuraya (Satellite Telecoms Co.)," the paper said.

Jordan rating

London-based Economist Intelligence Unit Country Risk Service said on Wednesday it raised Jordan's overall rating to B from C, citing improved budgetary and fiscal performance in key areas.

The kingdom's new rating effective June 12, 2000 was due to specific positive factors that included a larger than expected current account surplus, higher levels of foreign reserves and a commitment by the Finance Ministry to reduce budget deficits and increased transparency.

Saudi blocks imports of Firestone tyres

Saudi Arabia has blocked imports of Firestone tyres following doubts over their technical specifications after repeated tyre failures were linked to 62 deaths in the United States, a newspaper reported Wednesday.

The kingdom's standards and specifications organisation has "stopped issuing certificates of conformity to imported consignments of Firestone tyres following the emergence of doubts about their technical specifications," the Saudi Gazette said.

It has also blocked the import of new and used vehicles fitted with Firestone tyres, the paper added.

Jordan cement factory

Jordan's cement factory, one of the country's top earning industries, saw a 38 per cent reduction in its net profits for the first half of 2000, director general Samer Biriqdar said Wednesday.

Biriqdar, said gains for the first six months of the year stood at 4.5 million dinars (6.3 million dollars). Gross profits were down 19 per cent, standing at 12.5 million dinars (17.5 million dollars), he said.

Saudi banks

Stiff competition between Saudi Arabian banks has moved up a notch with the advent of online banking services and those who do not follow suit may feel the pinch.

Although still in its early stages, online banking is seen as the next step for banks in the kingdom if they are to keep their heads above water alongside domestic and international competitors.

Iran reports big oil, gas find

Iran has made an oil discovery containing 1.07 billion barrels of oil in place and 800 billion cubic feet of gas, an energy official was quoted on Sunday as saying.

Mahmoud Mohaddes, director of exploration at the National Iranian oil company, said in remarks prepared for state television that more reserves could be found after drilling a number of appraisal wells in the Changuleh field. His comments were made available to Reuters before broadcast.

He said the field was located north of the Kangan field, in southern Iran, close to the Vali Asr refinery. He said the new field could produce 80 million cubic feet of gas a day.

Syria to set up private banks, stock market

Syria will soon establish private banks and will for the first time ever set up a stock market, economic officials said on Saturday.

They said parliament speaker Abdel-Qader Qadourah on Saturday asked parliamentary committees on constitutional and legislative affairs and financial regulation to prepare the necessary studies on the establishment of private banks and a stock market.

Morocco expects more crude oil, gas discoveries

Morocco expects more crude oil and gas discoveries in the near future after it recently found "important" oil and gas deposits in the eastern area of Talsinnt, a minister said on Tuesday Morocco, which has no oil of its own, imports around $800 million of crude oil and gas mainly from the Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran.

"With God's blessing, Morocco has recently discovered important quantities of good crude oil and gas deposits in Talsinnt.

Kuwait stocks climb higher

The Kuwaiti stock market drew strength from fresh state moves to deal with a controversial bad debts law and steps to liberalise the oil-rich Gulf Arab state's economy, ending the week to Wednesday with a two per cent gain.

The Kuwait Stock Exchange (KSE) index ended the week up 30.2 points or 2.23 per cent at 1,381.5 points. Trading value soared to 51.392 million dinars ($166 million), a daily average of 10.27 million dinars, compared with 4.28 million in the previous week.

Saudi stock index up

Saudi Arabia's stock index surged more than four per cent in the week to Thursday to reach an all-time high on the back of persistently strong world oil prices and continued gains in most blue chip stocks, Bakheet Financial Advisors (BFA) said.

The Saudi all-share index rose 4.6 per cent to reach 2,287.36 points, the highest value since its establishment in February 1985, BFA said in a weekly report.

Fire destroys Egypt gas plant in Suez

Fire broke out in facilities of a gas company in Egypt's Red Sea city of Suez on Thursday, causing several explosions in buildings and storage areas and killinga driver and injuring nine other employees, security sources said.

They said firemen, civil defence forces and army troops had fought the blaze that began at dawn in the state-controlled Petrogas plant, extinguishing it after three hours.