US Says Committed to Baky Ceyhan

WASHINGTON (Reuters)–The United States said on Tuesday it remained committed to the construction of a pipeline from oil-rich Azerbaijan through the former Soviet republic of Georgia and Turkey to the Mediterranean.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said the Clinton administration preferred this route to a possible alternative that would go from Azerbaijan to the Black Sea port of Supsa in Georgia.

"We remain committed … to making the Baku-Ceyhan and the east-west corridor a reality," Rubin said. Baku is the Azeri capital; Ceyhan is the Turkish port on the Mediterranean.

Rubin said Turkish President Suleyman Demirel "was 100 percent correct" when he said on Monday that the US government was behind the multi-billion-dollar project.

"We will continue our efforts to serve as an honest broker in these negotiations and we welcome the constructive statemen’s from Turkish energy minister yesterday on what Turkey can do to support the Turkish leg," Rubin said.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that the Clinton administration’s two-year drive to persuade oil companies to build a pipeline in the Caucasus–a region between the Black and Caspian seas–appeared to be in trouble.

Oil companies from the United States and a half dozen other nations are to decide later this month how to transport oil believed to be under and around the Caspian sea–and there is concern they may decide that the route through Ceyhan would be too expensive. It carries an estimated price tag of $4 billion.

The Clinton administration has favored this route because it would guarantee that the oil passed through nations friendly to US interests.

A decision to choose the shorter route to Supsa in Georgia would cost Turkey billions of dollar in revenues.

The New York Times report said that Washington officials expected the US-backed route to be rejected. "I think it is a defeat–to be honest," the newspaper quoted an unidentified State Department official as saying.

Rubin on Tuesday called The New York Times report "premature," and said the United States was doing what it could to convince oil companies to build the pipeline.

In Baku on Tuesday–Azeri President Haydar Aliyev stood firm in support of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline.

"The New York Times does not at all represent the official position of the US administration–and I do not believe that the (American government) would retreat from its decision," Aliyev told a news conference.

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