- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan, March 12 (UPI) — Jordanian officials said Wednesday that some Arab Gulf countries have promised to supply Jordan with oil should the supplies stop from neighboring Iraq in the event of a possible U.S. war on the country.

They said on condition of anonymity that Kuwait was among those that said it would supply the kingdom with petroleum if supplies from Iraq were disrupted.

One official said that Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, who ended a two-day visit to Kuwait on Tuesday, returned with such a promise.

He warned, however, that none of the Arab countries that agreed to provide oil to Jordan were expected to give the cash-strapped country the low prices it has been granted by Iraq over the past 12 years.

Iraq, Jordan's main trading partner, has been supplying Jordan with all its oil needs, with special permission from the U.N Sanctions Committee, since the international sanctions were imposed on Baghdad after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Half of the oil, transported by tanker trucks, is free, while the other half is purchased at concessionary prices as a reward for Jordan's support for Iraq during its 1980-88 war with Iran. The government has not specified the exact amount it has been paying, but officials have privately put the rate at $16 per barrel.

Saudi Arabia stopped shipping crude to Jordan in 1990 after the latter refused to endorse a U.S.-led coalition against Iraq that pushed the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in February 1991.

One Jordanian official in Amman said the alternative oil supplying countries have indicated that Jordan would have to purchase the oil at going international market prices, which could lead to a hike in fuel prices in Jordan.

Prime Minister Ali Abul Ragheb recently said that a rise in fuel prices would be minimal and would not "be felt." But his comment prompted a rush by people to stockpile on heating fuel as Washington stepped up its threat to wage war on Iraq.

Consumer protection activists have warned the government against another increase in fuel prices after twice raising its rates in the past 18 months.

They complained that the government was trying to fill its budget deficit at the account of consumers, who pay about $2.70 per liter — about $10.75 a gallon — of gasoline and 20 cents per liter — about 80 cents a gallon — for heating diesel fuel.

Local newspapers on Wednesday quoted the prime minister as advising the public against stockpiling on foods and oil items "as this would affect the supply and demand situation and lead to higher prices for essential commodities."

But he also assured Jordanians that "oil products, foodstuffs and other necessities will be available as usual" should the United States make good on its promise to launch military operations against Iraq.

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