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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan Talk about Pipeline

May 20, 2008 - Kommersant - Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow began his first visit to Baku yesterday and held talks with Azeri President Ilham Aliev. The main topic of their discussion was the construction of the Transcaspian natural gas pipeline bypassing Russia. If the two leaders come to an agreement, Russia’s position as monopolist in the transit of Central Asian energy resources will be undermined. The countries’ former leaders, Heidar Aliev and Saparmurat Niyazov, disliked each other intensely. Their antipathy was largely based on a conflict of interests: they were unable to share the Kyapaz oil field (known as the Serdar field in Turkmenistan), on the Caspian Sea, containing 100-150 million tons of oil. In addition, Baku owed Ashgabat money for fuel since the early 1990s. Niyazov closed the Turkmen embassy in Baku in 2001. Relations between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan improved with Niyazov’s death and Berdimuhammedow’s ascension in 2006. Delegations were exchanged, and this year a joint commission on economic cooperation was set up. Baku paid its $44.8-million debt, and the Turkmen embassy in Baku reopened in April. The presidential talks took place in private and only the Azeri state television and AzerTAg information agency were accredited to cover Berdimuhammedow’s visit. But the topic of their talks was known in advance, thanks to a statement made by Azeri Minister of Industry and Energy Natik Aliev. It is a topic that the United States and European Union have been encouraging for a long time. Last year, the U.S. State Department even gave a grant for a feasibility study of the pipeline project. EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner visited Ashgabat in April.

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