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Central Asia: U.S. And EU To Cooperate On Caspian Energy Development

  • Ben Partridge

London, 19 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- President Bill Clinton says the U.S. and European Union have agreed to cooperate in the development of the energy resources of the Caspian region.

Clinton spoke in London yesterday after the sixth annual summit of the EU and the US. The talks involved British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose country holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, and Jacques Santer, president of the European Commission.

A EU-US statement on Caspian energy issues called for the early provision of multiple oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian region, and for an end to disputes about the legal status of the Caspian.

The statement says the US and EU recognize the importance of Caspian Basin oil and gas resources in contributing to the economic prosperity, energy security and stability of the region.

The Caspian region, particularly Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, has one of the largest reserves of oil and gas outside the Middle East and Russia.

But the region is landlocked and remote -- hence the need for pipelines to get the oil and gas to export markets. The U.S. has been at odds with the EU because of U.S. opposition to Iran being chosen as a route for export pipelines.

The statement says the resources of the Caspian are an important addition to world oil and gas supplies and require secure access routes to world markets via multiple pipelines.

The statement notes that the EU is working on a program to improve the security of energy supplies. It includes revitalization of the Soviet-era pipeline network, and building new pipelines across the Caspian, Black sea region and west to Europe. The program aims to strengthen regional cooperation. This is vital because energy producing countries must have the cooperation of transit countries.

The EU is backing the development of an east-west transport and trade corridor from Central Asia, across the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus and the Black Sea to Europe.

This route links in with plans to build a 21st century "Silk Road" -- comprising highways, railways, pipelines, and fiber optic cables -- from Asia to Europe.

The statement says the U.S. strongly endorses commercially and environmentally-sound projects to develop the Caspian energy resources and their transit to international markets. The U.S. is also helping many of the Caspian states to improve their legal regimes.

The U.S. stresses that the Caspian Pipeline consortium -- led by the giant U.S. multinational Mobil -- is a "critical component" in a multiple pipeline system. The U.S has given Turkmenistan a grant for a feasibility study for a trans-Caspian gas pipeline. Turkmenistan has the fourth largest gas reserves in the world.

The statement says the private sector will make the investments and take the risks of developing the Caspian reserves. Projects therefore must be economically viable and competitive, and must also meet the highest environmental standards.

The joint EU-US statement call on the littoral states -- which include Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan -- to reach an early agreement on the disputed legal status of the Caspian.