Who speaks for Saudi Arabia on oil, rivals and allies wonder

Wed Apr 20, 2016 7:28am EDT
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By Rania El Gamal, Vladimir Soldatkin and Dmitry Zhdannikov

MOSCOW/DOHA (Reuters) - As far as Venezuelan oil minister Eulogio Del Pino is concerned, his counterpart Ali al-Naimi, the world's most influential oil official for the past two decades, is no longer the voice of authority for Saudi Arabia.

Del Pino is still trying to find who is.

As prospects for the first deal between OPEC and non-OPEC in 15 years faded on Sunday due to last-minute demands from Saudi Arabia, ministers gathered in Qatar appealed to Naimi to save the agreement, Del Pino said.

"Unfortunately, the people representing the Saudis at the meeting didn't have any authority at all," Del Pino told reporters in Moscow on Monday, a day after Saudi Arabia's demand that arch-rival Iran sign on ruined a widely expected agreement to freeze output.

"Even Naimi didn't have the authority to change anything. The Saudis said, 'we have new papers and either you approve them or we don't agree'," Del Pino said. "It was a purely political decision... Oman, Iraq, everyone was disappointed and one minister told me it was his worst-ever meeting."

OPEC member Venezuela, one of the hardest hit by the latest oil price collapse, has had a tense relationship with the cartel's de facto leader Riyadh for decades.

But Del Pino's frustration is being echoed inside and outside the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries since Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman became the kingdom's top oil official last year.

Few Saudi or OPEC watchers have doubts that the 31-year-old Prince Mohammed is ultimately in charge of oil policy at the world's largest oil exporter. He is also in charge of defense and economic reform.   Continued...

Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi gestures as he attends a joint news conference with Russia's Energy Minister Alexander Novak, Qatar's Energy Minister Mohammad bin Saleh al-Sada, and Venezuela's Oil Minister Eulogio del Pino following their meeting in Doha, Qatar February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon