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What Was The Turkmen Deal In Tehran?

Presidents Berdymukhammedov (left) and Ahmadinejad in Tehran on February 14

Presidents Berdymukhammedov (left) and Ahmadinejad in Tehran on February 14

Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov visited Tehran on February 13-14 and, following a meeting with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, spoke about new energy deals between the neighboring countries.

Both Turkmen and Iranian officials confirmed that Turkmenistan would export 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas annually to Iran, apparently in addition to the 8 bcm Turkmenistan already exports. Iranian state news agency IRNA reported that "under the deal, Iranian companies would develop a natural-gas field in Turkmenistan and in exchange gas from the field would be exported to the Islamic republic." The same report identified the Turkmen gas field as "Bolutun."

Taken at face value, this seems to mean Iranian workers would be involved in developing the Bolutun field. That would make Iran the second country, after China, to have workers actually present on Turkmenistan's mainland (as opposed to offshore) fields.

There was much more. Berdymukhammedov was quoted by Iranian radio as saying Turkmenistan "would like to take advantage of Iran's cooperation in the exploitation of new gas resources, estimated at 14 trillion cubic meters, as well as construction of a new gas pipeline."

That field is the South Yolotan-Osman field -- audited by the British firm Gaffney, Cline, and Associates, who said in October that the field has a low estimate of 4 trillion and a high estimate of 14 trillion cubic meters. The British firm added that those figures make South Yolotan one of the world's five largest known gas fields.

Many countries and companies have been jostling for access to the field but Turkmenistan had refrained from making any sort of commitment. The reports in Iranian media indicate that Iran has succeeded where others failed.

That would be bad news for Russia, China, and some Western states. It would also prompt even bigger questions over the fates of projects like as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, the EU-backed Nabucco, and the Russian-backed South Stream.

Did Berdymukhammedov mean the pipeline would be built from South Yolotan to Iran? If so, it would appear to be a dead end for a huge supply of Turkmen gas, unless Turkmenistan and Iran are already confident that a significant improvement is coming in EU-Iranian relations.

The Nabucco pipeline foresees a connection at the Turkish-Iranian border and, indeed, many analysts have said the project will never be realized without Iranian gas (and Turkmen also).

A South Yolotan-to-Iran pipeline would obviate the need for the construction of a trans-Caspian pipeline to bring Turkmen, and possibly Kazakh, gas to Azerbaijan and on to points in Europe. That pipeline project would almost surely be slowed by Iranian and Russian objections, particularly since the Caspian's legal status (sea or lake) is still unclear.

-- Bruce Pannier

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