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“2011 is likely to be a year of ongoing turmoil in the broader Middle East,” he said.

Saudi Arabia, which is a member of the G-20, “emphasized that they have excess capacity,” Mr. Zoellick said, “and that is a good thing.”

Much higher fuel prices would threaten the fragile recoveries in the U.S., Europe and Japan, economists say. The oil price spike also is causing considerable hardships in developing countries and feeding into inflation and higher food prices, since energy is a major component of food costs.

In an ironic spiral, the higher food costs have contributed significantly to the unrest in the Middle East, and that in turn threatens to further increase fuel prices.

The rise in fuel prices in the U.S. has been muted, although gas prices were at historic highs for this time of the year before the Middle East unrest broke out. Last week, the average price of regular gas inched up 3 cents to $3.16 a gallon.

John B. Townsend II of AAA noted that the unrest in the Middle East has primarily driven up the price of Brent North Sea oil, London’s benchmark premium crude.

But analysts are cautioning that the lagging effect on U.S. oil and gas prices may be only “temporary,” he said, as the unrest persists and is spreading.