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Thursday, September 12, 2002

Senator Sees Over-Dependence on Mideast Oil

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States should wean itself from Middle East oil imports by buying more from Russia or risk further security threats, a Republican senator who backs strikes against Iraq said on Thursday.

The United States, the world's biggest consumer of oil, imports about half of its nearly 20 million barrels per day (bpd) requirement.

Montana Sen. Conrad Burns said the United States should find new sources of "terror-free oil" given growing social unrest in the world's No. 1 oil producer, Saudi Arabia.

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia continues to abuse its vast reserves to intimidate other countries from hiking production," Burns told reporters after speaking at the National Press Club. "We need to counter by shielding our economy from the whims of one single country."

Burns said the United States should import more oil from Russia and the Caspian Sea to avoid entanglements in the Middle East. South America and Canada could also supply more oil and gas.

Burns, who supports a U.S. military strike on Iraq, said he believed the American public had not rallied behind President Bush's appeal for action.

"The people I talk to know (Saddam Hussein) is a very evil man but they have not made up their mind if he is a danger to them, personally," he said.

American oil companies have sharply scaled back their purchases of Iraqi oil in recent months. After buying about 1 million bpd earlier this year, importers cut their Iraq purchases to about 167,000 bpd in June, according to U.S. government data.


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