CAIRO (AFX) – Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi said his country will work to maintain stability in world oil prices, warning against panic amid market jitters over a possible war in Iraq and unrest in Venezuela.

He told reporters that if shortages occur in supplies they will be made up.

“We want to have no imbalances in the market,” he said. “We want equilibrium between supply and demand, we want a stable oil market. We want a fair price.”

Mr Nuaimi said this is the position of both Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer, and OPEC, which recently announced it would cut output in line with a new quota ceiling for its members of 23 million barrels per day.

“There should be no excitement, there should be no reason to panic, the supply is there. We are watching the market carefully.”

Asked if there was currently a shortage on the market, he said: “That’s another question.”

His Qatari counterpart Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah Nuaimi said: “There is no shortage so far, but if there is a shortage, for sure, OPEC always (intervenes) to balance (out) demand and supply.”

“We should not panic”, he answered when asked about the threats to Iraq and a continuing strike by oil workers in Venezuela.

Oil markets remained nervous today after the US moved closer to leading a war against Iraq and oil workers continue their strike in Venezuela, the fifth-largest oil exporter, in defiance of a court order.

Crude oil prices have surged past US$32/barrel on heightened fears of supply disruption. Prices have also been affected by the decision by oil workers to continue their strike in Venezuela, the fifth-largest oil exporter, in defiance of a court order.