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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

OPEC Ministers Agree to Keep Output Steady

VIENNA -- All OPEC ministers are in agreement to leave the group's oil output unchanged at their Tuesday meeting, Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali Naimi said on Monday, with worries over supplies from Iran, Nigeria and energy powerhouse Russia outweighing forecasts for lower demand in spring.

"Yes, yes, absolutely yes," Naimi told reporters when asked if there was unanimous support.

Oil raced to $68 per barrel as UN Security Council powers prepared to discuss Iran's atomic program. Attacks on OPEC member Nigeria's oil industry and a sharp fall in Russian energy exports have added to consumer nations' sense of vulnerability.

The world's biggest energy user, the United States, has told OPEC it needs to pump more oil, not less, U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said earlier this month. The world's big economies fear high energy prices will hurt growth.

"I think we should leave things as they are," Algerian Energy and Mining Minister Chakib Khelil told reporters earlier Monday.

Analysts agree OPEC has little room to maneuver when it meets on Tuesday to set production for the coming months, despite evidence there is enough oil to satisfy winter demand and that there may be too much in the second quarter.

Any disruption to Iran's 2.4 million barrels per day of oil exports -- either through sanctions or Tehran withholding supplies -- would blow a hole in OPEC's forecasts.

"At this point, at these prices, we're not likely to see a cut. Politically, that is not feasible," said Jason Schenker, an analyst at U.S. bank Wachovia.

OPEC, supplier of over one-third of the world's oil, has been pumping close to 30 million bpd for months, but prices remain stubbornly close to August's $70.85 record high.

Saudi Arabia's Naimi said the world's biggest exporter saw "absolutely" no need for a cut this entire year. "Growth, economic growth" in Asia was the force behind high oil prices, he said.

Fellow OPEC states Kuwait, Nigeria, Libya, Algeria and Indonesia want the taps to stay open for now.

Some of OPEC's 11 members, most notably Iran, say the group cannot afford to ignore forecasts that demand in the world's 85 million bpd market will drop by 2 million bpd in the second quarter when winter consumption has passed.

OPEC President Edmund Daukoru, Nigeria's oil minister, has raised the possibility that the group may keep its 28 million bpd ceiling for now but agree on a cut for a future date.

 Nigerian militants released four foreign oil workers on Monday, but threatened another wave of attacks on oil facilities. The hostages -- an American, Briton, Bulgarian and Honduran -- were abducted from an offshore oil field in the southern Niger Delta on Jan. 11.

"They are all alive and well," said a spokesman for the state of Bayelsa, where the kidnapping occurred.