Romania Wants Caspian Oil Role

BAKU (Reuters)–Romania says it is ready to join the expanding Caspian Sea oil sweepstakes as a major transit and refining center that needs no big additional investment.

Romanian President Emil Constantinescu–on a state visit to Azerbaijan–whose capital Baku has become the vortex of the new Caspian region energy trade–said Romania’s Black Sea ports and refineries could handle a big chunk of Azerbaijan’s oil output.

"Romania has the ability to handle more than 30 million metric tons of oil and will be happy if Azerbaijan will use all of our capacity for the export of its oil," he told a joint news conference with Azeri President Haydar Aliyev on Tuesday.

Constantinescu–on the second day of a tour of the Caucasus region which will include neighboring Georgia and Armenia–said Romania had vital infrastructure including pipelines to central Europe–a good rail network–and a big port at Constanta.

Aliyev–who is running for a second five-year term as Azeri president this October–called Romania a partner and said Azerbaijan was keen to see it used as a transit route.

Foreign firms have signed contracts worth $40 billion in investment into Azerbaijan’s energy industry. The country’s geographical position also makes it a reasonable route to handle future output from projects in Kazakhstan and elsewhere in the Caspian basin.

Early crude output from a $12 billion joint project between a consortium of firms led by British Petroleum and Norway’s Statoil is currently being pumped via a pipeline running from Baku to Russia’s port at Novorossiisk.

Another pipeline from Baku to Georgia’s Black Sea port of Supsa is currently under refurbishment and should be ready by the end of 1998.

Chevron Corp. of the United States is already sending thousands of metric tons a month of output from its Tengiz project in Kazakhstan through Azerbaijan and Georgia by rail and then on to world markets via the Black Sea.

Azerbaijan wants to build a huge new pipeline to handle future Caspian output–but questions remain over the formidable financing and logistical requiremen’s of such a project.

Viable short-term alternatives–such as shipping through Romania or other Black Sea states–remain attractive options.

Constantinescu also voiced support for holding a Baku summit in September of states taking part in the so called new "Silk Road" linking the Far East and Europe.

The proposed transport corridor begins in France–crosses through Hungary–Bulgaria–Romania–Georgia–Azerbaijan–the countries of Central Asia and China and Japan.

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