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PARIS: France is ready to tap into its strategic oil reserves in order to help bring down global crude prices, Energy Minister Eric Besson said on Wednesday after a cabinet meeting.

"It was the United States that requested this, and France greeted the idea favourably. We are now waiting for the opinion of the International Energy Agency," he told reporters at the Elysee Palace.

Government spokeswoman and budget minister Valerie Pecresse said France was working with the United States and Britain to persuade the IEA to permit them to tap their reserves "to counter speculation on global energy markets."

"We are in a consultative phase," she said, adding that the IEA go ahead would be a pre-requisite for national action. She added France was also looking at other means to control rising prices, without detailing them.

The statements appeared to mark an evolution of France's position. Last week, Besson said that Paris was merely studying the possibility of opening its reserves as "one of the options" to tame rising oil prices.

At the start of October, France had 17 million tonnes of oil and refined fuel products in its strategic reserves, representing 98.5 days of its own use, thus slightly more than the 90 days required by international rules.

Around 12.5 million tonnes are managed by the independent French Committee for Strategic Petrol Stocks and the rest by oil firms, which are required to keep reserves in their privately operated facilities.

In theory, a nation's reserve is designed to be held in case of a major international crisis like a war or a natural disaster in an oil producing area.

But Asia's fuel-hungry economies are once more gathering steam, pushing up prices at a time when the economic recovery remains more vulnerable in some western economies, such as those of France and the United States.

Tensions are also running high in the Middle East, with Iranian exports limited by embargo and political unrest in several oil producers.

France and the United States are also in election mode, with both US President Barack Obama and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy facing pressure from voters over high pump prices for petrol and diesel.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2012

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