Iran president to attend next OPEC meeting

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will participate in the upcoming OPEC meeting in Vienna in his capacity as the country's caretaker oil minister, state media reported Wednesday.

Ahmadinejad dismissed Oil Minister Masoud Mirkazemi last week as part of a Cabinet restructuring plan under which the government is required to merge eight ministries into four. The move puts him temporarily at the helm of the country's most vital sector. Iran also holds the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' rotating presidency this year.

Vice President Mohammad Reza Mirtajeddini said that unless Ahmadinejad names a caretaker for the oil ministry's top job ahead of 12-nation bloc's June 8 meeting, he will lead Iran's delegation to OPEC.

"The president will participate in the meeting," Mirtajeddini was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday. "Whoever is the caretaker oil minister will attend this (OPEC) meeting."

Iran — OPEC's second largest oil exporter and the world's fourth largest crude oil producer — is typically seen as a price hawk. The country relies on oil exports for about 80 percent of its public revenues and, despite crude's price rally over the past couple of months, has said there is no need to adjust OPEC members' output quotas to cool the market.

The producer group has left its output quotas unchanged for over two years. Many of its top producers, including Iran and kingpin Saudi Arabia, have said the market remains oversupplied and that the run-up in crude prices is linked more to market fears following the disruption in Libyan oil output than supply-demand fundamentals. OPEC supplies about 35 percent of the world's oil.

Ahmadinejad, who is butting heads with the country's supreme leader since dismissing his intelligence minister without consulting with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has in the past shown great interest in controlling the oil ministry.

The dismissals of ministers have drawn fire and the mergers came without Ahmadinejad securing parliamentary approval. But the president has brushed off the criticism, saying the mergers are part of the government's efforts to cut costs and, in accordance with parliament's wishes, to streamline bureaucracy.

The efforts appear aimed at shoring up support at home at a time when Iranians are struggling under the weight of his earlier plan to phase out subsidies. That plan has led to increasing costs and inflation.

He is entitled to head the ministry himself for three months, or name a caretaker before introducing a candidate to the parliament for a vote of confidence.

Ahmadinejad chaired a meeting of the oil ministry Monday as the caretaker and his appearance at OPEC in June may be further aimed at boosting his support base at home.

Iran produces about 4.1 million barrels a day, of which roughly 2.5 million per day are exported.