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Associated Press
Minister of Oil from Kuwait Hani Abdulaziz Hussain speaks to journalists prior to the start of the meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, at their headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on Thursday, June 14, 2012. The meeting of the 12 oil ministers of the OPEC focuses on price and production targets. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

VIENNA — OPEC oil ministers agreed Thursday to keep their production target steady, in a compromise meant to defuse rivalries between Iran and Saudi Arabia and to send a soothing message to economically troubled consuming nations.

Oil prices have fallen more than 20 percent over the past two months, and a statement from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cited "downside risks facing the global economy" and ample stocks of crude as being responsible for the trend.

While agreeing to hold the output target steady, however, the statement suggested that OPEC ministers were ready to come together on short notice if prices fell to levels dictating a production cutback. The ministers, it said, "confirmed their readiness to swiftly respond to developments that might place oil market stability in jeopardy."

OPEC accounts for about a third of world crude production, and its decision Thursday corresponded with its professed goal of taking volatility out of global oil markets. With the economies of Europe and the United States feeble and even China seeing a slowdown, keeping production targets steady at a time of falling prices was meant to reassure consuming nations that they do not need to fear the added burden of more pricey energy.