qatar, oil producers, Alexander Novak.jpg
Photograph: EPA/STR

Top oil producers Sunday delayed an agreement to freeze the crude output levels to shore up low prices, saying they needed “more time for further consultations.”

The decision followed marathon talks in the Qatari capital Doha from which OPEC member Iran stayed away.

Qatar's Energy and Industry Minister Mohammed bin Saleh said at a press conference that participants in the meeting had agreed on the need for more time for discussion. He did not give details.

The minister added that OPEC members would meet in Vienna in June to consider a possible freeze.

However, he ducked questions about whether Iran was to blame for failure to reach the deal.

"The freeze could be more effective definitely if major producers, be it from OPEC members like Iran and others, as well as non-OPEC members, are included in the freeze," he said tersely.

Eighteen OPEC member countries and major producers from outside the cartel met in Doha Sunday to discuss a possible freeze in oil production at January's levels.

But the meeting started several hours behind schedule due to what the Qatari news television Al Jazeera called “divergence in views.”

Sources in Doha said that Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, demanded that any cap deal must be binding to all producers.

In recent months, tensions have grown between Saudi Arabia and its regional rival Iran.

Tehran has said it had no plans to sign the plan on freezing oil output.

Iran, which according to OPEC data currently produces between 2.8 million and 3.5 million barrels a day, is hoping a boost in production will help it recover from the impact of international sanctions lifted after last year's deal on its nuclear programme.

Failure to clinch the freeze deal can weaken prospects for recovery of oil prices that have fallen by up to 70 per cent since their peak in mid-2014, observers say.

However, the Qatari oil minister said that the oil market is improving due to what he described as control on production.

Sunday’s meeting in Doha follows a February agreement by Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela to push for the freeze in a bid to shore up the prices of crude oil, which earlier this year fell to their lowest levels since 2004.

Qatar, which holds the rotating presidency of OPEC, had invited oil producers both inside and outside the OPEC cartel to take part, saying that the time had come "to restore balance to the market and health to the global economy."

Although the low oil price has been a boon for many importing nations, it is causing economic and budgetary problems for exporting countries.

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