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Turkmenistan: Confusion Reigns About Ashgabat's Commitment To Nabucco

The Nabucco pipeline route, minus Turkmenistan (official website) Is Turkmenistan -- home to some of the world's largest deposits of natural gas -- now planning to join the Nabucco pipeline project to bring natural gas to Europe? That is the unanswered question after the European Union "troika" met with officials from the Central Asian states in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, on April 9-10.

At least three Russian newspapers -- "Vedomosti," "Vremya novostei," and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" -- have quoted the EU's external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, as saying that Ashgabat is prepared to participate in the Nabucco gas pipeline, following a meeting she had with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

The proposed Nabucco project would run from Turkey to Austria via Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary. Sponsors of the project have been hoping to include Turkmenistan, linking the pipeline to the Central Asian country by building a pipeline across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan, where it would connect to pipeline networks through the Caucasus to Turkey that are already built.

On April 10, the last day of the EU-Central Asian meeting, the Russian daily "Vremya novostei" reported the "sensational news about Turkmenistan supplying natural gas to Europe through the Nabucco pipeline." "Vedomosti" reported: "Turkmenistan will give gas for Nabucco," and on April 11 "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that the EU-Central Asian summit concluded with a Turkmen promise to supply the Nabucco pipeline with gas.

'Very Interesting Meeting'

All these reports based Turkmenistan's participation in Nabucco on comments made by Ferrero-Waldner. But in an interview with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Ferrero-Waldner was far less specific about Turkmenistan's commitment.

"I'm just coming back from a very interesting meeting with the president of Turkmenistan," she said, "and I must say, in principle, he is open to supply also to Europe. For instance, we talked particularly about gas. All depends then on the market prices, and it will certainly also help to develop their market. But on the other hand, it will give [Europe] another supply source."

The Turkmen government's website has not gone so far in its reporting of any deal. The website mentions that Turkmenistan and the EU signed a "memorandum on cooperation in the energy sphere" and quotes Berdymukhammedov as saying Turkmenistan is interested in "broadening [its] export routes" and that he "invited European partners to participate in large national projects."

Despite Ferrero-Waldner's comments, the "Forbes" website and on April 11 quoted French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who was also at the meetings in Ashgabat, as saying, "The [Turkmen] president decided to furnish Europe, and also France, of course, in gas."

Turkmen President In France

In these reports, Kouchner does not mention Nabucco specifically, and Turkmenistan already supplies some gas to Russian pipelines leading to Europe. So it still is not entirely clear by what route Turkmen gas will arrive in Europe.

One last twist to the story comes from the Turkmen government's website and Turkmen media, which reported that Berdymukhammedov has accepted an invitation to visit France in the second half of this year when France takes over the EU Presidency.

The EU "troika," headed by Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, also included Ferrero-Waldner and Kouchner, who represented the next holder of the EU's rotating presidency. EU special representative for Central Asia Pierre Morel also attended the meetings in Ashgabat with the Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Turkmen, and Tajik foreign ministers.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service Director Jamal Yazgalieva and Turkmen Service correspondents Allamurat Rahimov and Guvanch Geraev contributed to this report

Caspian Energy Special

Caspian Energy Special

For a complete archive of RFE/RL's coverage of energy issues in the Caspian Sea region and Russia, click here.

HOW MUCH OIL? The U.S. Energy Information Administration has estimated that the Caspian could hold between 17 billion and 33 billion barrels of proven oil. ("Proven reserves" are defined by energy experts to be 90 percent probable.) Other experts estimate the Caspian could hold "possible reserves" of up to 233 billion barrels of oil. ("Possible reserves" are considered to be 50 percent probable.) By comparison, Saudi Arabia has 261 billion barrels of oil and the United States 23 billion...(more)

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