Turks want new energy routes

Dec 19, 2008 01:00 AM

Turkish President Abdullah Gul joined east European leaders at a summit in Azerbaijan aimed at promoting energy routes to Europe outside Russia's influence. Amid concerns in the region that US president-elect Barack Obama will see the Caucasus and Eastern Europe as less of a priority, a senior US official told the summit that he expected Washington to stay engaged in the area.
The Turkish president joined the leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine for an energy meeting three months after Russia dropped bombs close to crucial energy routes through the Caucasus state of Georgia in a brief war.

Amid renewed criticism of Russia by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Gul steered clear of inflammatory rhetoric toward Turkey's historical rival Moscow. However, Gul emphasized NATO member Turkey's desire for a greater diplomatic role in the region, after his government earlier proposed a new forum for cooperation in the South Caucasus.
"The crisis which broke out last August in Georgia confirmed that unsolved conflicts in the region constitute a major threat from the perspective of security and stability," he said. "Our idea is to transform the South Caucasus from a region that is known for its conflicts to a region that would set an example for cooperation," Gul said.

Turkey, a close US ally, has become a growing player in the Middle East and Caucasus energy trade. It has a long history of involvement in the Caucasus as well as close linguistic and cultural links with Azerbaijan.
The leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine have long met to discuss plans to strengthen the corridor of energy routes that passes from the energy-rich Caspian toward Europe, but the meeting was the first time they were joined by Turkey. Backed by Western governments, international energy firms have invested heavily in building a corridor of oil and gas pipelines from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey and then on to hungry Western markets.

The European Union is hoping to connect the network to its flagship Nabucco gas pipeline and both the EU and US are backing efforts to link Central Asian countries to the network through a trans-Caspian pipeline.
The summit follows the unveiling by the European Commission of a plan to boost energy supply security and cut back dependency on Russia.

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