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Oil prices rise before OPEC meet

LONDON, Dec 21 – Oil prices rose on Monday as OPEC\’s crude-producing nations signalled that they would decide against making changes to output levels at an upcoming meeting.

New York\’s main futures contract, light sweet crude for January delivery, climbed 58 cents to 73.94 dollars a barrel.

Brent North Sea crude for February delivery advanced 40 cents to 74.15 dollars in afternoon London trading.

OPEC oil producers have reached a consensus to maintain production levels in light of comfortable prices, the OPEC secretary general said Monday ahead of a meeting of the cartel in Angola.

"There is a consensus that there is no change," Abdullah El-Badri told reporters, saying raising production levels next year was "not on our radar at this time."

OPEC oil producers meet on Tuesday at their first ever meeting hosted by Africa\’s new crude-pumping giant Angola and are expected to maintain emergency oil quota cuts agreed a year ago amid strong prices and high stocks.

"If you look at the price, very comfortable, but if you look at fundamentals, especially inventory … the stocks, they are a bit high. So we have to do something about this," Badri said.

"I will ask the ministers to comply more" with the quotas introduced in January, he added. Compliance has slipped but observers say that ministers have few real means to enforce it.

Tuesday\’s meeting caps a year of recovery for oil prices, which have more than doubled since the cartel set strict quota cuts in the depths of the economic crisis 12 months ago.

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In January the cartel enforced total OPEC cuts of 4.2 million barrels a day, which helped prices more than double from lows around 32 dollars in December.

Several OPEC ministers have said the current price of oil — which has been hovering around 75 dollars a barrel — is comfortable for its 12 members.

The market meanwhile shrugged off a border dispute between key oil producers Iran and Iraq, traders said.

"The markets are taking the news (of the Iran-Iraq border dispute) pretty well," said Clarence Chu, an oil trader at Hudson Capital Energy in Singapore.

"Initially there was some nervousness, but now they are not too concerned."

Iranian troops remained within Iraq\’s borders on Monday despite having withdrawn from an oil well along the two countries\’ disputed frontier, a local politician told AFP.

Oil ministry spokesman Assem Jihad, meanwhile, said the oil well had not yet been developed, and no Iraqis had worked to extract crude from it before Iran took it over last week.

The facility lies in disputed territory about 100 metres from the Iranian border, according to Iraqi officials. Iran says the oil well falls within its borders.

On Friday, Iraq\’s state-owned South Oil Company in the Maysan provincial capital Amara that about a dozen Iranian troops and technicians had arrived at the field, taken control of the Well 4 and raised the Iranian flag.

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It was the first serious incident between the two neighbours since the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein, whose forces fought a 1980-1988 war against Iran.

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