Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey to Discuss Kars-Baku Railroad

BAKU (Armenpress)–Transport officials from Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey are due to meet in early October to discuss sources of funding for the construction of a new railway in the South Caucasus which is supposed to stretch from Kars to Georgia’s Akhalkalak region and then to Baku, circumventing Armenia. A source at the Azeri transport ministry told the Azeri Trend news agency that the construction would begin only after solving all financial issues. The Armenian government is strongly opposed to these plans saying the existing railroad connecting Kars with Gumri that was operational before Turkey imposed a transport blockade on Armenia could be reactivated in no time which is comparably less expensive than building a new one which experts estimate may cost around $400 million. The head of Georgia’s state railway, Irakli Ezugbaya, announced last week that work on the 92-kilometer-long Georgian section of the planned rail link will be financed by a zero-interest loan to be disbursed by the Azeri government. The APS news agency reported that a senior Turkish official accused Georgia of deliberately delaying the railroad construction process. According to the official, despite efforts by Turkey and Azerbaijan to begin the project, Georgia has been slowing down the process by all means. "Turkey is ready to allocate $220 million for the construction and Azerbaijan has already assigned its share," said the Turkish official. "We do not ask Georgia for money while it’s the country that will derive a greater benefit from the project. Despite this, Tbilisi poses various bureaucratic obstacles to delay the constriction. That’s incredible," added the Turkish official. On Thursday, with a unanimous voice vote, the Senate Banking Committee adopted the amendment spearheaded by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and later adopted as proposed by Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Ranking Democrat Paul Sarbanes (D-MD). According to the measure, the Export-Import Bank "shall not guarantee, insure or extend (or participate in the extension of) credit in connection with the export of any good or service relating to the development or promotion of any railway connection or railway-related connection that does not traverse or connect with Armenia, and does traverse or connect Baku, Azerbaijan, Tbilisi, Georgia and Kars, Turkey." The provision is now part of the Senate Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Bill, also adopted unanimously by the Committee, paving the way for full Senate consideration of the legislation, reported the Armenian National Committee of American "With this amendment, we are sending a simple message–that we believe that the United States should support an integrated and inclusive approach to economic and regional development in the Caucuses region," explained Sen. Menendez. "There is already a railway which connects these countries and passes through Armenia which could be used to build a trans-Caucuses railroad. Why would we spend additional funds to build a new railroad link that goes around Armenia?" Sen. Menendez also stressed that the proposed railway goes counter to US policy in the Caucasus region. In response to Senators during her confirmation hearing, US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Anne Derse noted that "because the proposed railway would bypass Armenia, and thus not be beneficial to regional integration, we have no plans to support such a railway financially." The Menendez amendment is based on the South Caucasus Integration and Open Railroads Act of 2006 (S. 2461), introduced by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and cosponsored by Senators Menendez, Sarbanes and Wayne Allard (R-CO). The House version (H.R.3361), introduced by Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), currently has over 85 cosponsors. Both measures stress that US policy should oppose the "The exclusion of Armenia from regional economic and commercial undertakings in the South Caucasus," noting that such actions "undermine the United States policy goal of promoting a stable and cooperative environment in the region." In June, a similar amendment to the House version of the Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Bill was led by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), with the support of Financial Services Committee colleagues, Representatives Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Ed Royce (R-CA). The House adopted the measure in July. Following Senate committee passage of the measure, Rep. Crowley noted, "With this amendment, the US Congress is telling the governmen’s of Turkey and Azerbaijan that it is wrong to continue their Cold War style campaign against Armenia and hurt its economic growth. Their actions against Armenia will meet with real consequences, and we are taking note of this inexcusable behavior. By excluding Armenia in these regional projects, Turkey and Azerbaijan are putting the finishing touches on a 10-year-old economic blockade against this republic that has made great progress in implementing democratic and economic reforms." In October of 2005, the European Commission voiced official opposition to the proposed Caucasus railroad bypass of Armenia. A formal statement by the Commission’s Directorate General for Transport and Energy noted that its construction was both unnecessary and inefficient in light of the existing railroad connecting Kars, Gyumri, and Tbilisi.

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