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Western Oil Officials Converge On Turkmenistan

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has suggested Turkmenistan is ready to open up to Western investors (file photo) (AFP) November 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Western government officials and executives from international oil majors today joined the race for access to Turkmenistan's natural-gas resources -- thought to be among the world's largest -- as a two-day annual oil and gas conference opened in Ashgabat.

Turkmenistan was among the most isolated countries in the world under the long rule of President Saparmurat Niyazov. But since Niyazov's death nearly a year ago and the rise to power of Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, Turkmenistan appears to be far more open to foreign investment.

With Western-based energy giants joining Russian and Chinese companies in competing for oil and natural gas in Turkmenistan, governmental contacts have intensified with Turkmenistan, which plans to more than triple its gas production by 2030.

Steven Mann, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary for South Asian affairs, said today at the "Oil and Gas of Turkmenistan -- 2007" forum that "We are ready to extend our expertise to our friends in Turkmenistan."

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports that U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman and EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs are also expected to attend the conference, as are executives from BP and Chevron, as well as Russian, and Chinese companies.

The forum was preceded by Turkmenistan's 12th international oil and gas exhibition on November 13. According to official information, some 150 companies from 21 countries attended.

Turkmen Oil Minister Baimurat Khojamukhammedov told foreign investors that Turkmenistan's potential to enter global markets depends on the capacity of its gas-transport system.

Khojamukhammedov added that a priority of Turkmen's energy policy is the "formation of a multivariant system of supplies of Turkmen fuel to world markets." He added that Turkmen's strategic energy partners are "Russia, China, and other countries."

Opening To The West?

It is the addition of the "other countries" that has Western-based energy companies excited. And the president backs up those comments.

In remarks published ahead of the conference, Berdymukhammedov said his country is ready for cooperation with well-known companies with experience in production and modern equipment, with global financial organizations, and with banks to implement big oil and natural-gas projects.

During a visit to the United States in September, Berdymukhammedov said Ashgabat intends to "broaden" and "invigorate" its cooperation with other states in the areas of energy, transportation, and economy.

He was also quoted as saying, "Turkmenistan gives primary importance to developing relations with the United States, particularly in oil and gas."

A Turkmen delegation also discussed U.S. participation in Turkmenistan's oil and gas development and exports with U.S. business leaders.

Russia currently buys most of the country's natural gas at below market prices. But Berdymukhammedov's support for a policy to open alternative export routes has triggered an international race for access to Turkmenistan's gas resources.

Berdymukhammedov this year agreed to build a pipeline that would boost supplies to Russia and inaugurated construction of a pipeline going east to China.

Negotiations also resumed on a U.S.- and EU-backed plan for a trans-Caspian pipeline designed to ease Europe's dependence on Russian gas imports.

(with material from, Reuters, "Financial Times," "International Herald Tribune")

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