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Turkmen President In Beijing For Energy Talks

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (file photo) (epa) July 17, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Turkmenistan's president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, arrived today in Beijing for a two-day official visit with the delivery of Turkmen gas to China at the top of the agenda.

During his stay, Berdymukhammedov is expected to sign several agreements aimed at speeding up bilateral projects, especially gas cooperation.

He was scheduled to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao this later today.

Berdymukhammedov told a government meeting last week that his visit to China marks "not only a new page in the chronicles of the Turkmen-Chinese cooperation, but also a milestone in the implementation of Turkmenistan's foreign policy strategy."

The discussions will include efforts to further a hoped-for gas pipeline between Turkmenistan and China, which are separated by at least two borders.

Economic Hopes

Berdymukhammedov vowed that his country "will begin to sell gas to China starting from 2009" expressed hope "that this will further strengthen [the Turkmen] economy in the future."

The late Turkmen President Niyazov predicted the pipeline would come on-line by 2009 and deliver 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas to China over the next 30 years.

Turkmen Altyn Asyr Television reported on July 16 that the Turkmen Oil and Gas Ministry delegation, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tacberdi Tagyyev, held talks with the Chinese side on July 16 related to "the practical implementation" of a gas-pipeline project.

Beijing and Ashgabat reached initial agreement on the pipeline during an April 2006 visit to China by the late Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, when he and Hu signed an agreement to build the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline.

Niyazov predicted the pipeline would come on-line by 2009 and deliver 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas to China over the next 30 years.

Reports say Berdymukhammedov will discuss gas pricing along with details of the planned pipeline's route while he's in China.

Crowded Field

The Chinese National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) is also expected to sign a deal to develop a Turkmen gas field during this visit.

China's dependency on foreign fuels has resulted in increased gas shipments from Central Asia. Beijing has also been negotiating over gas supplies from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The new Turkmenistan-China pipeline is expected to pass through both of those countries, and could traverse Kyrgyzstan as well.

Turkmenistan currently sells 70 percent of its natural gas to Russia, which yields significant profits from re-exports to Europe.

Iran is another big importer of Turkmen gas.

Turkmenistan is clearly trying to keep its options open. Last week, delegations from the United States and Russia visited Ashgabat for gas talks.

Andrei Grozin, a Central Asia analyst at Moscow's Institute of the CIS Countries, told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service that the Turkmen president will signal that his country intends to keep its pledges.

"Berdymukhammedov is going to China to assure the leadership of the [People's Republic of China] that Turkmenistan will construct the [gas] pipeline to China despite the agreement on construction of a [new] transcaspian pipeline reached with Russia," Grozin said.

Western governments are also seeking to construct alternative pipelines that could deliver natural gas from Central Asia to Europe without passing through Russia.

Turkmenistan's leadership -- which has suggested it wants to diversify its gas export -- also discussed the possibility of a gas pipeline connecting it with Afghanistan and Pakistan during a visit earlier this month by Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai.

Central Asia In Focus

Central Asia In Focus

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