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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Venezuela is talking to some OPEC members and Russia about the possibility of joint action to prop up oil prices, a Russian Foreign Ministry official said, while another diplomat said Moscow wanted better ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Russia, one of the world's top oil producers, has repeatedly refused to cooperate with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries despite the falling price of oil, the lifeblood of its economy.
But in the last few weeks Moscow has been sending mixed signals about the possibility of cooperation even as it and OPEC pumped oil at to close to record highs.
Oil's weakness has hurt Russia. Calculations by the Finance Ministry showed on Monday that the country's oil export duty was expected to fall 24 percent in March to $39.5 per tonne, its lowest in nearly 12 years, due to declining prices.
But any hope of sealing a global deal has foundered on Iran's position. Tehran is boosting production to try to regain market share after the lifting of sanctions, paving the way for Iran to re-enter the market after a long absence.
Russia made clear on Monday that Iran was key to any deal.
Moscow wants relations to improve between Tehran and Riyadh at a time when joint action is needed to influence global oil prices, RIA news agency quoted Zamir Kabulov, a senior official at Russia's Foreign Ministry, as saying.
"We all need stability on the oil market and a return to normal (crude) prices," RIA quoted Kabulov as saying.
"And these are the key nations, especially Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is striving to return to the oil market."
The prospect of cooperation between Iran and leading OPEC producer Saudi Arabia is complicated by the fact that the two countries are geopolitical foes that support different sides in conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
Venezuelan oil minister Eulogio Del Pino, whose country pumped 2.44 million barrels per day last month or roughly a quarter of Russia's volumes, has been visiting other producers, including Moscow, to drum up support for joint action.
After talks with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak in Moscow, the Russian Energy Ministry this month said the two had discussed the possibility of holding joint consultations between OPEC and non-OPEC countries in the near future.
Novak confirmed to Del Pino his readiness to take part in such consultations. No specific date was set.
Vladimir Voronkov, Russia's representative to Vienna-based international organisations, told Interfax news agency on Monday that Venezuela was holding talks with Russia and some OPEC members on possible joint action.
"Russia is not in talks with OPEC as an organisation regarding oil output cuts," Voronkov told Interfax. "Dialogue is being held with separate members and is being mainly held via Venezuela."
Some OPEC countries are trying to achieve a consensus among the group, while some non-members back an oil production freeze, sources familiar with the discussions said last week, a possible attempt to tackle the glut without cutting supply.
Saudi Arabia might be warming to the idea, but any deal would mainly depend on a commitment by Iran to curb its plan to boost exports, the sources said.
Additional reporting by Darya Korsunskaya and Denis Pinchuk; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov and Katya Golubkova; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Dale Hudson