Washington briefing: Azerbaijan, Turkey seek Turkmenistan gas, ferry link up

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Saturday December 06, 2008

Ilham Aliyev wearing Turkmen national garb, with portrait of Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov in the background, receiving a diploma at Turkmenistan State University, Ashgabat, Nov. 28, 2008. President.az

Washington - The presidents of Azerbaijan and Turkey were in Turkmenistan last week in another effort to encourage routing of that country's natural gas exports via the Caspian, the Caucasus, and Turkey. The United States has long supported the trans-Caspian gas pipeline, having in August 2007 allocated funds to study its feasibility.

But Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have had difficult relations since independence, with their past dictators Heydar Aliyev and Saparmurad Niyazov arguing over offshore Caspian oil fields.

In recent years, while disagreements about the maritime border have not been resolved, there have been more contacts. Last May Mr. Niyazov's successor, Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, went to Baku for talks with Ilham Aliyev.

On November 28-29 Mr. Aliyev paid a return visit, with Turkish president Abdullah Gül arriving apparently to mediate the dispute between the two "brotherly" nations.

The three leaders agreed to reestablish a ferry link between Baku and Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), suspended since the collapse of the USSR, and to continue talks on the disputed Kapaz/Sardar oil field in the middle of the Caspian and on a potential trans-Caspian gas pipeline.

In December 2007 Turkmenistan hosted the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan and agreed to build a new pipeline to export additional natural gas through their territories. The Central Asian nation is believed to have fourth largest gas resources in the world behind Russia, Iran, and Qatar.

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