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(AFX-Focus) 2003-03-31 21:35 GMT: IRAQ WAR Venezuela guarantees its oil supply to US despite opposition to war

CARACAS (AFX) - Venezuela, the only Latin American member of OPEC, remains opposed to the US-led invasion of Iraq but has ignored Baghdad's demand for oil-producing countries to stop sales to the United States and Britain.

"We have always defended the idea at the heart of OPEC, and it is the policy of the current government, not to play politics with the oil supply," said Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez, as he guaranteed his country's supplies to the United States.

Iraq had called on its fellow OPEC members last week to stop the flow of oil to the United States and Britain.

Venezuela is the fifth largest oil exporter and the eighth largest producer, and along with Saudi Arabia and Mexico is a major supplier to the United States.

President Hugo Chavez has repeatedly made clear his government's opposition to US-led military action in Iraq. Some government spokesmen have even suggested that a side-aim of the conflict was to break up OPEC.

Therein lies a contradiction, according to oil expert and university lecturer Victor Poleo.

"The agression against Iraq being about oil, and Iraq being a member of OPEC, it's contradictory that Venezuela should assure the United States of its supplies," he said, adding that oil was inherently political and that the conflict in Iraq would leave a deep wound in OPEC.

A second oil analyst close to the Venezuelan opposition disagreed.

There was no other position for the country to adopt, except to guarantee supplies to its principal client, according to Alberto Quiros Corradi.

Ideological differences "are one thing, commercial and bilateral relations are another," he said.


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