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Turkmenistan: U.S. Official Discusses Trans-Caspian Pipeline

Prague, 14 August 2000 (RFE/RL) - Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has apparently changed his attitude toward a proposed trans-Caspian pipeline to move natural gas to Turkey from his country's deposits in the Caspian Sea.

For the past several months, Niyazov has made only negative comments about the U.S.-backed project, agreements for which were signed at last November's summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But this week, Niyazov told the new Turkish ambassador to his country that it would be good for both countries to move forward on the trans-Caspian pipeline.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service Thursday asked John Wolf, U.S. special envoy to the Caspian, whether the United States still hoped to see the project completed. Wolf said:

"Our position has been to continue to support the realization of the project. But there are other good offers on the table and it's really for Turkmenistan to decide whether or not it will go forward with the project. For our part, we are working with Turkey, because Turkey has requirements for natural gas and a strong desire to get gas from the Caspian. We're going to work with them to cooperate with Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan, whenever it's ready."

In the same telephone interview from Washington, Wolf was asked about recent reports of a possible long-term deal between Russia and Turkmenistan for shipping natural gas, which could affect the trans-Caspian project, as well as Turkmenistan's recent efforts to increase its natural gas exports to Iran. He responded:

"Turkmenistan made clear as recently as this week that it still hopes to supply gas to Turkey. That was in the meeting between President Niyazov and the new Turkish ambassador to Ashgabat. We hope he will take concrete steps now to achieve that. The fact of the matter is, neither his sales to Russia, nor his sales to Iran, nor his sales to Turkey are going forward. Turkmenistan needs to make a choice and move forward."

Wolf was also asked about the views of some experts who have said the costs of the trans-Caspian pipeline could prove to be exorbitant. He said:

"It's not a question of finance -- in fact, this project is readily financed. We support the project, because we think that it is important for the countries on the east side of the Caspian and the countries on the west side of the Caspian to have an opportunity to export their natural resources -- gas and oil -- to Western markets without having to go through some of the world's largest competitor nations."

Wolf was then asked how the U.S. believed the trans-Caspian pipeline could be financed. He answered:

"We have always made clear that this project needs to be financed commercially, but that we would be prepared to help with U.S. government-backed Export-Import Bank credits and Overseas Private Investment Corporation project insurance to support the project. OPIC insurance would be very important because it would reassure commercial investors that they would have a government guarantee for the project. And we have been very consistent in the position for two years."

Wolf denied that the U.S. government is rethinking its policy on the pipeline project because of Niyazov's unwillingness so far to participate in it. He said:

"Turkey has said that it has a strong desire to expand its suppliers and to acquire gas from the Caspian region. We are working with Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan -- and we will work with Turkmenistan -- if and when it's ready to achieve that purpose."