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 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 Al-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 cartel which makes output decisions that can sway the oil price.
Al-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 exporter, with US sanctions over Tehran's nuclear activities slowing development of its gas sector. Major European companies have shelved or scrapped multi-billion-dollar projects in the Islamic Republic.
Russia has been a reluctant backer of UN 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.
Between them, Russia, Iran and Qatar hold 57.1 percent of the world's gas reserves, according to information published recently on the US government's Department of Energy website.
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