OPEC Confirms Iraqi Oil Minister to Attend Meeting

LONDON - An Iraqi delegation will attend next week's meeting of OPEC members for the first time since U.S.-led forces deposed former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, a significant boost for a new government hungry for international recognition.

OPEC Secretary General Alvaro Silva told senior members of the Iraqi oil ministry in a phone conversation that Iraq's oil minister would be welcome at the Sept. 24 meeting in Vienna, OPEC spokesman Omar Ibrahim said Thursday from the group's headquarters in the Austrian capital.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries dropped its insistence that Iraq's attendance be made conditional on U.N. recognition of the American-backed interim government in Baghdad, in a sign of growing international acceptance of Iraq's new Governing Council.

In Baghdad, Iraq's oil minister, Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, confirmed that he would attend.

Iraq's return to the U-shaped table at the OPEC Secretariat will be an important step in its rehabilitation as an oil producer. Iraq has not attended OPEC meetings since the Anglo-American invasion this spring, and it has not participated in the group's output agreements since the Gulf War of 1991.

Iraq, one of five founding members of OPEC, has the world's second-largest proven crude reserves, at 112 billion barrels. OPEC members supply about a third of the world's oil, and they plan to reassess their production quotas and current output at next week's meeting.

"Yes, they are coming. We have now sent a letter" of invitation, Ibrahim said. It was not yet clear who else would accompany al-Uloum to the meeting, he said.

OPEC officials said Monday that they might not wait for the United Nations to recognize Iraq.

The five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council met Saturday in Geneva to try to narrow their differences on a new Iraq resolution. They plan to resume talks this week in New York before world leaders gather for the U.N. General Assembly.

Iraq's attendance at OPEC is another sign of international acceptance of the interim leadership in Baghdad. Last week, Iraq's new foreign minister, Hoyshar Zebari, joined the Arab League meeting in Cairo. The league initially had suggested it would not accept the council as the egitimate representative of the Iraqi people.