Iran Decries West's Criticism of Gas OPEC

TEHRAN -- Iran dismissed objections from big Western consumer nations to setting up an OPEC-style gas body when officials from producer countries met in Tehran on Monday to discuss increased cooperation.

The two-day meeting of deputy ministers and senior experts of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, or GECF, was expected to debate a Russian proposal for a "charter" for the grouping, Iran's Oil Ministry said on its web site.

Major gas exporters have met informally for several years within the informal club, widely seen as a talking shop.

Iran has been pushing to turn it into a more formal body for natural gas producers, akin to the 13-member Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, whose output decisions can send the oil price up or down on world markets.

The United States and the European Union have said creating such an organization would endanger global energy security and make room for price manipulation.

Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Ali Kordan rejected U.S. opposition to the idea as "political," saying a gas group would protect the rights of both consumer and producers.

"This organization will act as a policymaking organ, and in this organization the member countries can discuss such issues as the exchange of technology and reducing production costs," the Oil Ministry web site quoted him as saying.

"The U.S. opposition on the establishment of such an organization is completely political in nature," he said.