Gazprom, Iran, Qatar in 'Gas Troika'

APMiller, right, talking with al-Attiyah as Nozari looks on. The three discussed the formation of a 'gas OPEC' on Tuesday.
TEHRAN, Iran -- World gas powers Russia, Iran and Qatar moved on Tuesday to strengthen cooperation, and Tehran said there was consensus to set up an OPEC-style group, which is likely to worry Western consumers.

Gazprom said it had agreed with Iran and Qatar to form a "big gas troika" and that it should become a permanent body holding regular meetings.

But unlike Iranian Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari, Gazprom chief Alexei Miller did not refer to the establishment of a "gas OPEC" after talks with Nozari and Qatar's Energy Minister Abdullah al-Attiyah in Tehran.

"There is a demand to form this gas OPEC, and there is a consensus to set up a gas OPEC," Nozari told a joint news conference after talks with Miller and Attiyah.

Europe and the United States have warned against such a body, saying it could pose a danger to global energy security and create room for price manipulation.

Russia, Iran and Qatar are ranked the first-, second- and third-biggest holders of natural gas reserves and together boast more than half of the global total.

"We have agreed to hold regular -- three or four times per year -- meetings of the 'big gas troika' to discuss key issues of gas market developments," Miller said in a statement.

"We have a common vision of the goals of the forum and the need to transform it into a permanent organization as quickly as possible to serve the goals of stable and reliable energy supplies in the world," the statement said.

Major gas exporters have met informally for several years at the annual Gas Exporting Countries Forum, a grouping also including Venezuela, Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia and Libya.

Iran wants to turn it into a more formal body akin to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the 13-member cartel that makes output decisions that can sway the oil price.

Gazprom has previously played down the idea of a gas OPEC, saying it was not feasible.

Some analysts say any gas OPEC could be expected to share insights on upstream contract terms with investors rather than act on restricting gas supply as the oil OPEC does.

"Surely, this gathering of gas exporting countries is to give assurances over gas supply to the world," Miller, whose country is the world's largest gas exporter, told the news conference.

Iran is still a relatively small exporter, with U.S. sanctions over Tehran's nuclear activities slowing development of its gas sector. Major European companies have shelved or scrapped multibillion-dollar projects in the Islamic Republic.

Russia has been a reluctant backer of UN sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program, which Tehran says is for electricity generation but the West fears is for weapons construction.

Nozari hailed Tuesday's talks as a "turning point" in expanding cooperation among Iran, Qatar and Russia and said they had agreed to set up a committee of senior officials.

Miller said the new body would "review projects and implement joint projects. This will range from exploration, refining and selling gas." He added that the committee of technical specialists would meet in Doha, Qatar, next week.