- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

NEW YORK, Jan. 17 (UPI) — The price of crude oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange Friday briefly hit $34 per barrel for the first time in two years as the weekend began with brusque words from the United States on the results of Iraqi weapons inspections.

February crude settled at $33.91 on the day, after opening the NYMEX session at $33.75, and falling as low as $32.90 prior to a strong surge of buying in the final hours before the weekend.

The bullish sentiment could be attributed to the ongoing labor troubles hampering oil operations in Venezuela and continued saber rattling between the United States and Iraq.

The White House Friday accused Saddam Hussein of not cooperating fully in the U.N. inspection efforts after a small number of empty chemical munitions were discovered in an Iraqi facility on Thursday.

"The issue is whether Saddam Hussein disarms, and on that point the president has yet to see proof that Saddam Hussein has disarmed," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

The Bush administration in recent days has stressed that even though the U.N. inspectors have not located much evidence that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, Iraq was not actively cooperating with the inspectors as required by the United Nations.

"The … issue is whether or not Iraq is doing what it told the world, which is disarming," Fleischer said. "They are not."

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez Friday used his State of the Union speech to rail against the opposition leaders of a strike that has lasted six weeks and disrupted the export of crude and refined fuels by the state oil company PDVSA. The speech appeared to dash any hopes that the dispute would be settled in the near future.

Venezuela is a major supplier of crude to U.S. refineries, particularly in the Gulf Coast region that supplies markets in the East Coast, deep South and Midwest.


(Reported by Hil Anderson, UPI Chief Energy Correspondent)

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