Riyadh: A rare meeting of the heads of state of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) countries ended here Sunday on a political note, with two leaders — President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran — blaming the weakness of the US dollar for high oil prices.
Despite the best efforts of the host country, Saudi Arabia, to steer the meeting away from politics and promote Opec’s environmental concerns, the leaders of Venezuela and Iran let loose some show-stealing statements.
“The dollar is in free fall, everyone should be worried about it,” Chavez told reporters here. “The fall of the dollar is not the fall of the dollar — it’s the fall of the American empire.”
During a news conference after the meeting, Ahmadinejad added: “The US dollar has no economic value.”
Normally, meetings of the Opec are tepid affairs where ministers leave politics at the door and talk about oil inventory and supply and demand. This unusual meeting, held amid the pomp and glitter of the Saudi royal court, had been planned since last December but happened to fall at a time of renewed concern over record oil prices and the shrinking value of the dollar.
At the summit’s opening ceremony on Saturday, Chavez sought to bring Opec back to its militant and revolutionary roots. “Opec should set itself up as an active political agent,” Chavez said, addressing about 1,000 guests in a conference center by the royal quarters.
Chavez’s 23-minute statement drew a gentle rebuke from King Abdullah, the Saudi monarch, who chided him for talking longer than the time allotted by royal protocol. He also turned down Chavez’s plea, saying: ”Those who want Opec to take advantage of its position are forgetting that Opec has always acted moderately and wisely.”
It is only the third time in Opec’s 47-year history that such a high-level meeting has taken place. The first was in Algiers, in 1975, at the height of Opec’s nationalist period; the second was in 2000, when the oil cartel met in Venezuela to devise a strategy to increase prices after they had collapsed to about $10 a barrel in the late 1990s.