The 23 June meetings each lasted for about 40 minutes. They were chaired by Crown Prince Abdullah and included the heads of the core venture consortia and the members of the gas initiative ministerial committee in charge of the scheme. Lee Raymond, chairman and chief executive officer of the US’ ExxonMobil Corporation, which leads core ventures 1 and 2, had one meeting with the crown prince. Philip Watts, chairman of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, which heads core venture 3, had the other. Although the meetings were separate, they had the same format and the same outcome, say the sources. Aside from restating their commitment, both sides outlined their positions and progress.

On the government side, the ministerial committee is headed by Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. It also includes Petroleum & Mineral Resources Minister Ali Naimi, Finance & National Economy Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf, Industry & Electricity Minister Hashim Yamani and Planning Minister Khaled al-Gosaibi. The committee’s next meeting to review progress will be on 15 July. Prince Saud is then expected to meet Raymond and Watts in Paris on 18 July.

‘This was just a positive meeting to speed up the talks,’ says one Western source. ‘Negotiations are going on all the time, but it was very important to have the crown prince’s involvement. No specific deadline has been set, but there was a strong suggestion that people focus harder to get an agreement ready in a month or two. I think that is a reasonable aim.’

Despite the positive feedback from the meetings, there had been some hope that the government would make fresh proposals to overcome the serious obstacles still to be faced. ‘The crown prince called the meeting, so we obviously expected something new,’ says another Western source. ‘But we are pleased that we have new targets to work towards.’