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Irreversible Decline?

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Reprinted from Counterpunch

Did the U.S. and the Saudis Conspire to Push Down Oil Prices?

From youtube.com/watch?v=YTeUH7g2vtU: OPEC vs Russia vs N.America. Global oil prices fluctuated following a statement from the Saudi Arabian oil minister.
OPEC vs Russia vs N.America. Global oil prices fluctuated following a statement from the Saudi Arabian oil minister.
(Image by YouTube)
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"Saudi oil policy" has been subject to a great deal of wild and inaccurate conjecture in recent weeks. We do not seek to politicize oil" For us it's a question of supply and demand, it's purely business." -- Ali al Naimi, Saudi Oil Minister

"There is no conspiracy, there is no targeting of anyone. This is a market and it goes up and down." -- Suhail Bin Mohammed al-Mazroui, United Arab Emirates' petroleum minister

"We all see the lowering of oil prices. There's lots of talk about what's causing it. Could it be an agreement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to punish Iran and affect the economies of Russia and Venezuela? It could." -- Russian President Vladimir Putin

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Are falling oil prices part of a US-Saudi plan to inflict economic damage on Russia, Iran and Venezuela?

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro seems to think so. In a recent interview that appeared in Reuters, Maduro said he thought the United States and Saudi Arabia wanted to drive down oil prices "to harm Russia."

Bolivian President Evo Morales agrees with Maduro and told journalists at RT that: "The reduction in oil prices was provoked by the US as an attack on the economies of Venezuela and Russia. In the face of such economic and political attacks, the nations must be united."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the same thing,with a slightly different twist: "The main reason for (the oil price plunge) is a political conspiracy by certain countries against the interests of the region and the Islamic world ... Iran and people of the region will not forget such ... treachery against the interests of the Muslim world."

US-Saudi "treachery"? Is that what's really driving down oil prices?

Not according to Saudi Arabia's Petroleum Minister Ali al-Naimi. Al-Naimi has repeatedly denied claims that the kingdom is involved in a conspiracy. He says the tumbling prices are the result of "A lack of cooperation by non-OPEC production nations, along with the spread of misinformation and speculator's greed." In other words, everyone else is to blame except the country that has historically kept prices high by controlling output. That's a bit of a stretch, don't you think? Especially since -- according to the Financial Times -- OPEC's de facto leader has abandoned the cartel's "traditional strategy" and announced that it won't cut production even if prices drop to $20 per barrel.

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Why? Why would the Saudis suddenly abandon a strategy that allowed them to rake in twice as much dough as they are today? Don't they like money anymore?

And why would al-Naimi be so eager to crash prices, send Middle East stock markets into freefall, increase the kingdom's budget deficits to a record-high 5 percent of GDP, and create widespread financial instability? Is grabbing "market share" really that important or is there something else going on here below the surface?

The Guardian's Larry Elliot thinks the US and Saudi Arabia are engaged a conspiracy to push down oil prices. He points to a September meeting between John Kerry and Saudi King Abdullah where a deal was made to boost production in order to hurt Iran and Russia. Here's a clip from the article titled "Stakes are high as US plays the oil card against Iran and Russia":

"...with the help of its Saudi ally, Washington is trying to drive down the oil price by flooding an already weak market with crude. As the Russians and the Iranians are heavily dependent on oil exports, the assumption is that they will become easier to deal with. ...

"John Kerry, the US secretary of state, allegedly struck a deal with King Abdullah in September under which the Saudis would sell crude at below the prevailing market price. That would help explain why the price has been falling at a time when, given the turmoil in Iraq and Syria caused by Islamic State, it would normally have been rising.

"The Saudis did something similar in the mid-1980s. Then, the geopolitical motivation for a move that sent the oil price to below $10 a barrel was to destabilize Saddam Hussein's regime. This time, according to Middle East specialists, the Saudis want to put pressure on Iran and to force Moscow to weaken its support for the Assad regime in Syria" (Stakes are high as US plays the oil card against Iran and Russia, Guardian)

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Mike is a freelance writer living in Washington state.

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