Turkish President’s Baku Visit Shows Strong Links

BAKU (Reuters)–Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer visits ex-Soviet Azerbaijan on his first official foreign trip on Tuesday–highlighting Ankara’s wish to strengthen already close ties between the two Turkic countries.

Iran–Russia and the United States are all vying for political and economic influence in the oil and gas-endowed region.

Analysts said on Monday that Sezer was hoping to make Turkey Azerbaijan’s main partner and was eager to extend cooperation on oil and gas transport and to build a pan-Turkic corridor.

“It’s not surprising that Sezer is coming here first,” a Western diplomat said by telephone. “Turkey is the main bulwark for Azerbaijan and Turkey sees this country as the first stop in their dream of a pan-Turkic corridor.”

Sezer visited northern Cyprus recently. But the breakaway northern Cypriot state and its leadership is not recognized by the international community.

Azerbaijan is Turkey’s jumping-off point for access to the markets of the energy-rich Caspian states Kazakhstan–Turkmen’stan and Uzbekistan.

And Azerbaijan is eager to strengthen ties with Turkey through the construction of two multi-billion-dollar pipelines–one to carry oil to Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan and another to deliver gas to the border.

A US-backed oil pipeline will bypass Russia and southern neighbor Iran.

Turkey–Azerbaijan and the United States hope the new pipeline will cement Azerbaijan’s economic and political independence from Russia.

“There’s a sense that Turkey wants to make sure that it doesn’t lose out in the Caucasus and Central Asia since Vladimir Putin was elected president in Russia,” said Laura Le Cornu–a regional expert.

Putin’s newly appointed Caspian envoy and Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny is due in Baku on Wednesday–a sign that Russia is stepping up its involvement in the area too.

In addition to the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline–a second pipeline from a giant offshore field–discovered last year by a BP Amoco-led consortium–will also be on the agenda. That pipeline is due to carry gas to the Turkish border by the winter of 2002-03.

BP Amoco is waiting for Turkey and Azerbaijan to sign a crucial gas sales purchase deal for investment on the $1.3 billion gas pipeline plan to proceed. Industry sources say that a gas contract could be signed before the end of this year.

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