OPEC split on setting basic $32-a-barrel price

The major oil-producing countries split Monday as pricing talks got under way , with influential Saudi Arabia apparently determined to block a substantial increase sought by the majority. Humberto Calderon Berti of Venezuela, president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, said most oil ministers supported a return to a unified pricing structure on a basic benchmar rate of $32 a barrel for Saudi oil. This would increase the average OPEC price, now just under $32, by up to $3 a barrel and mean a more substantial increase by Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis, the world's largest oil exporters, are at the bottom of OPEC's free-for-all price range, charging $28. Saudi Oil Minister Ahmad Zaki Yamani, who said he rejected the proposal, told reporters the kingdom would not consider any price rise unless other producers scrapped their existing high premiums or differentials.

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