March 8, 2010 / 9:26 AM / 9 years ago

Libya vows equal treatment for foreign oil firms

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - All international energy firms will be given equal opportunities to work in Libya, the country’s top oil official said on Monday after U.S. firms were caught up in a row between Washington and Tripoli.

An engineer conducts routine checks on oil tanks at a refinery in Wuhan, Hubei province November 27, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

“We are going to give a chance to every international oil company, whether they are from East or West,” Shokri Ghanem, head of the state-run National Oil Corporation, said at an energy conference. “There is no difference between companies.”

Libya is demanding that Washington apologise after a U.S. official made caustic comments about Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Last week Ghanem summoned the local heads of U.S. energy firms to convey Tripoli’s anger.

U.S. energy companies including Exxon Mobil, Occidental and Hess have invested heavily in Libya, home to Africa’s largest proven oil reserves, since the country emerged from decades of international isolation.

Ghanem, who was speaking on Monday at the Oil and Gas Libya conference in Tripoli, made no specific mention of the dispute with Washington.

OPEC ‘TO HOLD OUTPUT STEADY’

The Libyan energy chief, underlining comments he made a week ago, said he expected the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to leave its oil output targets unchanged when it meets in Vienna on March 17.

He said OPEC still did not have a clear enough picture of the world economic outlook to be able to change its targets. “Do not expect any decision on decreasing or increasing (production) at the OPEC meeting next week,” Ghanem told the conference.

Libya’s spat with Washington centres on a speech Gaddafi made last month calling for a “jihad” against Switzerland. The term is often translated as “armed struggle”, but a Libyan official has since said Gaddafi meant only an economic boycott.

Asked about the speech, a U.S. State Department spokesman said it reminded him of a previous Gaddafi address which, he said, involved “lots of words and lots of papers flying all over the place, not necessarily a lot of sense.”

Libya’s ambassador to the United States said last week his country wanted good relations with Washington but would not allow its leader to be insulted.

The dispute showed the sensitivity of Tripoli’s ties with the West more than six years after its decision to abandon weapons of mass destruction led to a rapprochement with Washington.

Libya had already been locked in a dispute with Switzerland since July 2008 when Gaddafi’s son Hannibal was briefly arrested by police in Geneva on charges — which were later dropped — of mistreating two domestic employees.

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