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U.S. Envoy For Eurasian Energy Explains Goals, Strategy For Region

Richard Morningstar at the Southern Corridor summit in Prague in May 2009
Richard Morningstar at the Southern Corridor summit in Prague in May 2009
The U.S. government's special envoy for Eurasian energy has laid out the White House's approach to Eurasian energy policy in a speech in Washington.

Ambassador Richard Morningstar told a group at the Center for American Progress on January 28 that President Barack Obama's government is pursuing three fundamental goals. First and foremost, he said, U.S. policy is to encourage the development of new oil and natural gas resources across the Eurasian region while simultaneously promoting alternative technologies and the efficient use of all energy resources.

Second, Morningstar said the United States is supporting Europe in its goal of achieving energy security. EU countries forced to rely on one source of energy are at a disadvantage when spats between producing, transit, and destination countries interrupt supply lines, as happened last year with Russia and Ukraine.

"The populations of Bulgaria and Serbia who suffered in the cold can attest to that," Morningstar said. "So our aim is to encourage the development of multiple energy sources with multiple routes to market. This approach furthers competitive, efficient markets and the best prices for consumers."

Third, Morningstar said the United States wants to help countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia find new routes to export their oil and gas. That goal is tied to the United States' larger goal of fostering economic growth and prosperity in that region, he said.

Southern Corridor

Morningstar was appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009 to advise her on political issues related to the development, transit, and distribution of Eurasian energy resources. His brief includes supporting the United States' energy goals in Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Central Asia, and the Caucasus.

Morningstar's appearance at the Washington think tank was an opportunity, he said, to take stock of where things stand, and look ahead to where the United States wants to see them go.

One top U.S. priority is to see the opening of a new corridor, the so-called Southern Corridor, that would bring natural gas from the Caspian region to Europe, he said.

"This corridor...hopefully will include Nabucco, as well as the Turkey-Greece-Italy Interconnector," Morningstar said. "Both are important from a strategic standpoint to diversify gas sources and open new supply routes to Europe. A Southern Corridor would provide commercial benefit for the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia and also create a long-term partnership based on mutual interests with Europe."

To that end, he said, the United States is encouraging an agreement between Turkey and Azerbaijan on gas from Azerbaijan's giant Shah Deniz field, as well as encouraging resource-rich countries in Central Asia and the Middle East to supply gas to the corridor. He called it "disappointing" that Turkey and Azerbaijan have failed to reach agreement but added that both countries are "good friends of the U.S. and we do not take sides in their negotiations."

Morningstar also said the United States welcomed Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's desire to supply gas to the Southern Corridor, but that much work remains to be done before that can happen. He noted, however, that the United States won't support gas or new oil exports from Iraq that aren't sanctioned by the central government.

"We therefore encourage early passage by Iraq's new parliament -- after the March elections -- of comprehensive legislation addressing revenue sharing and the structure of the nation's hydrocarbon industry, or the making of equivalent agreements between Baghdad and Irbil [capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region]," Morningstar said. "Such legislative action will strengthen Iraq's unity and ensure an equitable distribution of national wealth to all Iraqis."

As for Iran, Morningstar said the United States sees "no place for Iranian gas in the Southern Corridor given the current approach of its leadership and while international efforts to address Iran's nuclear program are under way."

Russia And Europe

On European energy security, the United States takes the view that new pipelines won't be enough to ensure steady delivery of heating oil and gas to the continent. Morningstar said that's why the United States supports initiatives Europe is taking on its own, including building a single market for energy, unbundling the distribution and supply functions of energy companies, and increasing gas storage capacity.

The United States, he said, considers energy giant Russia an important partner and a critical player in the region and has been seeking engagement in areas where the two countries agree. Morningstar said he disagreed with critics who say U.S. support for European energy security as anti-Russian.

"Energy security has many aspects," Morningstar said. "We can talk about security for suppliers, like Russia, which is seeking dependable, reliable access to routes to market. We can talk about security for consumers, like the EU, which is seeking dependable, reliable delivery of oil and gas resources. We can talk about upstream investment and the possibility for joint ventures in Russia, with Russian companies in Russia, the U.S., or third countries. We can cooperate in areas such as efficiency and new technologies, and we will."

Both countries will have a chance to explore areas where they agree or disagree when the U.S. Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Energy Working Group holds its first meeting sometime in the next few months. The U.S.-Russian energy working group is just one of many venues for engagement the White House has set up with foreign governments.

Under Obama, the United States is establishing a foreign policy -- in this case, a foreign energy policy -- characterized by frequent and open dialogue between all sides. "The key to achieving our strategy is engagement. Our job is to listen, identify common interests and priorities and play a facilitating role where we can," Morningstar said.