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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Azerbaijan could permit Iran gas transit to Georgia - minister

BAKU, October 12 (RIA Novosti) - If Georgia and Iran reach a natural gas export agreement, Azerbaijan is ready to allow Iranian gas to be transited across its territory to Georgia, the country's industry and energy minister said Thursday. Georgia's traditional gas supplier is Russia, but supplies were disrupted in January after pipeline explosions in southern Russia, which left Georgia struggling for heating supplies amid record low temperatures. To meet its natural gas needs, Georgia turned to Azerbaijan and fellow Caspian Sea state Iran until Russia resumes supplies. Natik Aliyev said talks between Tbilisi and Tehran on the gas issue will take place in Iran soon. Russia cut off transportation links with Georgia last week after Georgian police detained four Russian servicemen on espionage charges. Although the servicemen were released, tensions between the countries remain high and Russia has evacuated most of its diplomats from the territory of its southern neighbor. The Georgian Fuel and Energy Ministry said Minister Nika Gilauri will head for Tehran October 21 to meet with government members and hold preliminary consultations on gas imports. "Technical details will not be discussed during the talks," a spokesperson said. "These are just preliminary talks." During Gilauri's recent visit to Iran, he was told on October 10 that Azerbaijan deemed it possible to transport Iranian gas across its territory. Since President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in Georgia on the back of the 2003 "Rose Revolution," both the government and parliament have sought to remove Russian peacekeepers from conflict zones with two self-proclaimed republics, and to force the withdrawal of Russian troops from two Soviet-era bases that are due to close in 2008, which complicated bilateral relations.

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