Iraq agreement to return of U.N. inspectors lowers oil futures

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

OSAKA, Japan -- Iraq's agreement to the return of weapons inspectors sent the price of oil futures lower Tuesday, easing pressure on OPEC ministers to boost output to ease price increases that had built on fears of war.

The futures price dipped about 4.4 percent initially on London's International Petroleum Exchange before gaining ground to close down about 2 percent on the day.

Lower prices could bolster the arguments of OPEC members who say the oil supply has been adequate but crude prices have been inflated by a "war premium" of $2 to $4 per barrel on concern the United States might soon invade Iraq in an attempt to topple President Saddam Hussein.

OPEC's key player, Saudi Arabia, has not committed itself to raising output or holding steady when the group meets here Thursday. Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi is due into Osaka on Wednesday.

The United States and other large oil importers have been alarmed by prices that hovered near $30 per barrel, which some worry could harm chances for economic recovery. OPEC has been divided about whether now is the time to pump more.

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