OPEC Keeping Quiet On Possible Candidates

OPEC ministers have agreed to keep quiet about any proposed candidates for the soon-to-be-vacant secretary-general post until OPEC's June 26 meeting, a senior OPEC source said.

Rather than forward candidates publicly, triggering a damaging war of words in the media, OPEC President Rilwanu Lukman has struck a "gentleman's agreement" with OPEC ministers who have pledged to keep the matter of replacing incumbent Ali Rodriguez among themselves, deciding on a new secretary-general at the upcoming meeting in Vienna, the source said. "We can't repeat the scenario of 1999/2000, we don't want to see the same fiasco," said the source, referring to the last time the job was up for grabs, in late 1999 and early 2000, when negotiations got bogged down as Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia refused to withdraw their nominees. OPEC regulations state that member states have to agree unanimously on a candidate, making the nomination process prone to political horse-trading. In 2000, OPEC members eventually settled on a "neutral" candidate, Ali Rodriguez, who has now decided to return to his homeland to run Venezuela's state oil company, PDVSA.

"Things are easier since (Iran's oil minister) Zanganeh's statement on (Iran's OPEC governor Hussein Kazempour) Ardebili," the source said. Saturday, Zanganeh told reporters in Tehran that Iran hasn't proposed its OPEC governor for the secretary-general post. In 2000, Iran nominated Ardebili, Iraq nominated its U.N. representative, Amir Alanbari, and Saudi Arabia nominated its OPEC Governor Suleyman al-Herbish. Ardebili isn't believed to be on a shortlist of three or four possible candidates that has been sent for approval by Iranian President Mohammed Khatami.

OPEC sources have said its members will hammer out a back-room deal ahead of the June 26 meeting, allowing the organization to approve a new secretary-general in Vienna. This will prevent the issue overshadowing discussions on oil output policy, they say.