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Qatar said it was quitting OPEC from January to focus on its gas ambitions

Doha. Qatar said on Monday it was quitting OPEC from January to focus on its gas ambitions, taking a swipe at the group’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia and marring efforts to show unity before this week’s meeting of exporters to tackle an oil price slide.

Doha, one of OPEC’s smallest oil producers but the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter, is embroiled in a protracted diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia and some other Arab states.

Qatar said its surprise decision was not driven by politics but in an apparent swipe at Riyadh, Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad al-Kaabi said: “We are not saying we are going to get out of the oil business but it is controlled by an organisation managed by a country.” He did not name the nation.

Al-Kaabi told a news conference that Doha’s decision “was communicated to OPEC” but said Qatar would attend the group’s meeting on Thursday and Friday in Vienna, and would abide by its commitments.

He said Doha would focus on its gas potential because it was not practical “to put efforts and resources and time in an organisation that we are a very small player in and I don’t have a say in what happens.”

Delegates at OPEC, which has 15 members including Qatar, sought to play down the impact. But losing a long-standing member undermines a bid to show a united front before a meeting that is expected to back a supply cut to shore up crude prices that have lost almost 30 percent since an October peak.

“They are not a big producer, but have played a big part in (OPEC’s) history,” one OPEC source said.

It highlights the growing dominance over policy making in the oil market of Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States, the world’s top three oil producers which together account for more than a third of global output.

Riyadh and Moscow have been increasingly deciding output policies together, under pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump on OPEC to bring down prices. Benchmark Brent is trading at around $62 a barrel, down from more than $86 in October.

“It could signal a historic turning point of the organisation towards Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States,” said Algeria’s former energy minister and OPEC chairman, Chakib Khelil, commenting on Qatar’s move.

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