Russia's energy minister said Tuesday his country has agreed with OPEC members Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Venezuela to freeze oil production levels if other producers do the same. The ministry quoted Energy Minister Alexander Novak following an unexpected, closed-door meeting in the Qatari capital of Doha. The Wall Street Journal calls it the "first coordinated move to boost oil prices in years," though there's one hitch: Iran and Iraq must follow suit. The meeting reflects growing concern among major oil producers about a prolonged slump in crude prices. Novak said the countries are willing to freeze output at January levels "if other oil producers join the initiative," but getting other major oil suppliers to go along could be tricky. Prices have fallen sharply since summer 2014, leaving producers scrambling to win market share.
Oil prices rose following the meeting, and the Saudi oil minister said that producers would continue to assess the market in the months ahead. All countries at the meeting except Russia are part of OPEC, which has refused to cut its official production targets. The aim of OPEC's keep-pumping strategy: to attempt to ride out the 12-year lows in prices and force higher-cost producers, such as shale drillers in the US, out of the market. A Middle East economist said the new agreement should help support prices, but he noted only some OPEC members have signed on and that compliance with the bloc's own quotas has long been a challenge for the group. Iraqi officials didn't immediately respond to the Journal, while Iran's oil minister said, "It requires discussion and examination." (Read more oil stories.)