'Gulf source' in Opec bowing out
Vienna, May 31, 2013
Saudi Arabia has had four oil ministers but, to date, only one, very unofficial, oil ministry spokesman. Now Ibrahim Al-Muhanna, top adviser and media handler for two Saudi oil ministers for over nearly a quarter of a century, is about to retire.
As the voice behind the scenes for the biggest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, a few words from a late night briefing with Al-Muhanna flashed across news wire screens could move world oil prices in seconds.
He first appeared on the Opec scene in November 1989 as adviser to then-Saudi Oil Minister Hisham Nazer at a meeting in Vienna, home to the producer group's headquarters.
Former Reuters correspondent Nick Moore, an Opec hand since the days of Saudi Oil Minister Sheikh Zaki Yamani, worked out with Al-Muhanna a formulation for how to attribute his comments. He became "a Gulf source familiar with Saudi oil policy."
"We cooked it up after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait when Opec suspended output quotas and the Saudis wanted to let the market know they could make up for the lost output from Kuwait and Iraq combined," Moore said on Thursday.
US-educated Al-Muhanna kept a low profile, quietly communicating Saudi Arabia's views to small groups of reporters and analysts gathered in a discreet corner of a plush Vienna hotel.
His career, alongside his current boss Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi, spanned the crash in oil prices to $10 a barrel in 1998 and a market rescue orchestrated by Riyadh that eventually saw crude surge to a record high $147 in 2008.
With oil prices now bang in line with Saudi Arabia's preferred $100 a barrel, Friday's Opec meeting in Vienna may be his last.
In Vienna on Thursday, a Gulf source familiar with Saudi oil policy declined comment. - Reuters