Putin may discuss OPEC for gas cartel during visit to Persian Gulf

The formation of an "OPEC for Gas" may be discussed when President Vladimir Putin visits the Persian Gulf next week, but Moscow is not interested in joining a global cartel, a senior Russian lawmaker said Tuesday.

Energy cooperation and arms sales will figure high on Putin's agenda when he visits Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, said Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament.

Margelev said that the idea of forming a global cartel of natural gas producers like OPEC could be discussed during Putin's trip to Qatar, the world's third-largest natural gas producer after Russia and Iran.

Iran raised the idea last month when Igor Ivanov, Russia's Security Council chief, visited Tehran. Putin said last week that "the idea of a gas OPEC is interesting, we will think about it," but added that Russia had no immediate plans to build such a group.

Margelov said that Russia would like to coordinate its actions in the gas sphere with other major producers, but added that forming a gas cartel was not in Russia's interests. "It's extremely important for Russia to have a freedom of maneuver, so we are unlikely to join an OPEC for gas," he told a news conference.

When Putin visits Saudi Arabia, the arms trade is likely to become a key part of the agenda, Margelov said. Russia hopes, in particular, to win a prospective Saudi order for tanks.

In Jordan, Russia hopes to develop prospective natural gas fields, build pipelines and power plants, Margelov said.

On the political side, Putin and the Gulf nations' leaders were expected to discuss escalating crises in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Iraq, Margelov said.

He denied that Russia, a member of the international Quartet of Mideast peacemakers which also includes the United Nations, the United States and the European Union, was trying to win broader clout in the region at U.S. expense.

"There is no reason to talk about any kind of rivalry between Russia and the United States in the Middle East," Margelov said. "In the political field, Russia and the United States are pursuing the same strategic goals."

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa visited Moscow Tuesday for talks with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other officials, hailing Russia's contribution to peacemaking efforts in the region.

Putin is set to visit Saudi Arabia at the invitation of Saudi King Abdullah on Feb. 11-12. He will fly to Qatar for meetings with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani on Feb. 12 before heading to Amman for talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II.

The trip will be the first for Putin to any of the three countries and comes as Moscow has increased its participation in trying to resolve simmering conflicts in the Middle East. Russia has also stepped up its military and trade ties with countries in the region, delivering weapons systems to Syria and Iran, among others.

"Russia is regaining its role as a top supplier of weapons to the Middle East," Margelov said.

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