(Adds Iran commissioning of new gas projects in Gulf)
TEHRAN, Oct 21 (Reuters) - World gas powers Russia, Iran and Qatar moved on Tuesday to strengthen cooperation and Tehran said there was consensus to set up an OPEC-style group which is likely to worry Western consumer nations.
Russia's gas export monopoly Gazprom GAZP.MM said it had agreed with Iran and Qatar to form a "big gas troika" and that it should become a permanent body holding regular meetings.
But unlike Iran’s Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari, Gazprom Chief Executive Alexei Miller did not refer to the establishment of a “gas OPEC” after talks with Nozari and Qatar’s Energy Minister Abdullah al-Attiyah in Tehran.
“There is a demand to form this gas OPEC and there is a consensus to set up gas OPEC,” Nozari told a joint news conference after talks with Miller and Attiyah.
Europe and the United States have warned against such a gas export body, saying it could pose a danger to global energy security and create room for price manipulation.
Russia, Iran and Qatar are ranked the first, second and third biggest holders of natural gas reserves in the world and together boast more than half of the global total.
“We have agreed to hold regular -- three or four times per year -- meetings of the ‘big gas troika’ to discuss key issues of gas market developments,” Miller said in a statement.
“We have a common vision of the goals of the forum and the need to transform it into a permanent organisation as quickly as possible to serve the goals of stable and reliable energy supplies in the world,” the statement issued in Moscow said.
Major gas exporters have met informally for several years at the annual Gas Exporting Countries Forum, a grouping including also Venezuela, Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia and Libya.
Iran wants to turn it into a more formal body akin to the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the 13-member group which makes output decisions that can sway oil prices.
Attiyah said: “God willing, in the next meeting of the gas exporting countries, they will affirm the establishment of the organisation.”
Gazprom has previously played down the idea of a gas OPEC, saying it was not feasible.
Some analysts say any gas OPEC could be expected to share insights on upstream contract terms with investors rather than act on restricting gas supply as the oil OPEC does.
“Surely this gathering of gas exporting countries is to give assurances over gas supply to the world,” Miller, whose country is the world’s largest gas exporter, told the news conference.
Iran is still a relatively small gas exporter, with U.S sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear activities slowing development.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad officially commissioned development phases 6, 7 and 8 of the South Pars gas field in the Gulf on Tuesday, Iran’s IRNA news agency reported.
An Iranian firm and Norway's StatoilHydro STL.OL developed the offshore phases but StatoilHydro has scaled back its Iran plans, like many other Western firms, which analysts say is undermining Iran's bid to become a major gas exporter.
Russia has been a reluctant backer of U.N. sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme, which Tehran says is to generate electricity but which the West fears is to make bombs.
Nozari hailed Tuesday’s talks as a “turning point” in expanding cooperation between Iran, Qatar and Russia and said they had agreed to set up a committee of senior officials.
Miller said the new body would “review projects and implement joint projects. This will range from exploration, refining and selling gas.” He added the committee of technical specialists would meet in Doha, Qatar’s capital, next week. (Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari in Tehran and Dmitry Zhdannikov in Moscow; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by james Jukwey)
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