EU to push for Caspian gas line

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, waves to media as Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, left, laughs after Putin arrives at Mehrabad International airport in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2007. Putin arrived in Tehran on Tuesday for a historic visit to hold talks on Iran's nuclear program and attend a Caspian sea summit. The visit, the first by a Kremlin leader since World War II, is taking place despite warnings of a possible assassination plot and amid hopes that a round of personal diplomacy could help offer a solution to an international standoff on Iran's nuclear program.(AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) -- The European Union will push harder for a pipeline to carry natural gas from the Caspian Sea region to Europe while bypassing Russia, a senior EU diplomat said Wednesday.

Russia's war with Georgia underscores the need to step up preparations for the prospective Nabucco pipeline, EU special representative Pierre Morel said after meeting with the leader of gas-rich Turkmenistan, President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov.

"I was able to confirm to the president that the EU believes that we need to strengthen efforts on the construction of Nabucco," Morel told reporters. "Concrete steps in that direction will be in the coming months, in early 2009."

The Nabucco pipeline, backed by the U.S. and EU, would ease Europe's reliance on Russian energy. The EU gets about one-third of its oil and about 40 percent of its natural gas imports from Russia.

The leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan met last week, raising European hopes for construction of an undersea pipeline across the Caspian that could potentially link Central Asia's vast gas reserves to Western markets.

"President Berdymukhamedov's overtures to Azerbaijan are a very promising step that could determine the future of the southern energy transportation corridor," Morel said, referring to Nabucco.

Morel said that he offered Berdymukhamedov guarantees the European Union is working with Western energy companies to develop long-term proposals to assist in developing Turkmenistan's huge hydrocarbon resources.

Turkmenistan estimates its total gas reserves stand at more than 26 trillion cubic yards (20 trillion cubic meters). Most of its exports go through Russia.

Widespread skepticism about the Turkmen evaluation were mitigated earlier this year when British auditing company Gaffney, Cline and Associates disclosed that its investigations confirmed the country may hold the world's fourth-largest natural gas field.

Doubts remain, however, whether the former Soviet republic will be able to satisfy all existing obligations and seal new contracts with Western partners.

Turkmenistan has committed to exporting 65 billion cubic yards (50 billion cubic meters) per year to Russia under a 25-year contract and it also has agreed to provide China with 52 billion cubic yards (40 billion cubic meters) annually beginning late next year. An additional 10 billion cubic yards are sold annually to Iran.

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