Turkmenistan seeks to resolve Caspian dispute as Iran leader visits

Jul 24, 2006 02:00 AM

Turkmenistan wants a visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to help spur progress on dividing up the resource-rich Caspian Sea so that its natural gas can be exported to Europe.
"Particular attention... will be given to the question of speeding up settlement of the juridical status of the Caspian Sea in order to develop its hydrocarbon resources and opportunities for supplying natural gas to Europe," the State Information Agency said.

An overall agreement on the Caspian Sea's borders has eluded the five Caspian countries since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union, slowing development of the area's vast energy resources.
The three northern Caspian countries -- Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia -- have reached their own accord, but Iran and Turkmenistan have not signed on to it. Turkmenistan lacks the major oil reserves to be found among the three northern countries but its gas reserves are substantial, ranking it among the top 15 countries in the world.

Turkmenistan backed outof talks with Western countries in the late 1990s on building a natural gas pipeline across the sea to Western markets but more recently has tried to shake off Russia's grip on its gas exports -- a result of Russian dominance of the Soviet-era pipeline network.
During Ahmadinejad's visit -- part of a two-country tour that also takes him to Tajikistan -- the two sides are expected to discuss a “new” price for Turkmen gas exports to Iran. These exports are relatively small compared with Turkmenistan's northward exports to Russia and Ukraine, but are expected to increase.

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