Brent slips below $79 as rhetoric heats up before OPEC meeting

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SINGAPORE (Nov 18): Brent crude slipped below $79 a barrel on Tuesday, headed for its sixth daily fall in seven, as oil prices struggle to find a floor ahead of next week's critical OPEC meeting.

Speculation about OPEC's response to a drop in global oil prices of almost one-third since late-June intensified after calls from Venezuela to increase cooperation within the cartel as well as with non-members, including top producer Russia.

A special global meeting was being planned "very soon", Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Monday, as Russia said the head of state oil giant Rosneft would fly to Vienna on Nov. 25, just two days before OPEC members meets in the city.

"Until we have firm news from OPEC, oil prices can go down further. We don't expect a sharp rebound in prices unless we get positive news about a production cut," said Ken Hasegawa, commodity sales manager of Newedge Japan.

Brent crude was down 41 cents to $78.90 a barrel by 0315 GMT, after settling 10 cents lower. The front-month contract has shed nearly 33 percent since late-June when it reached a year-high of $115.71 a barrel.

U.S. crude was down 31 cents at $75.33 a barrel. The contract settled 18 cents lower on Monday.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak met on Monday in Moscow with Venezuela's Foreign Minister Rafael Ramirez to discuss "the need to coordinate actions in defence" of prices in the oil market. Previous overtures between OPEC and Russia haven't produced results.

"We cannot ignore the comments from Venezuela and Russia. But the most important factor is what steps OPEC and especially Saudi Arabia decides to take," Hasegawa said.

Speculation about the OPEC meeting is expected to overshadow the usually closely-watched weekly oil inventory data published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

U.S. commercial crude oil stockpiles are forecast to fall 1.2 million barrels in the week ending Nov. 14, a preliminary Reuters survey showed.

Data from the American Petroleum Institute (API) is due at 2130 GMT, while the EIA will publish its report on Wednesday.