Turkey’s Gul Invited to Nabucco Summit with EU leaders

ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)–President Abdullah Gul has been invited to a summit of European Union leaders and the key energy-supplying countries of the Caucasus to discuss the troubled Nabucco pipeline project, which is planned to transport natural gas from the Caspian Basin to Europe.

The EU’s Czech presidency has extended the invitation to Gul for the May 8 summit between the so-called EU Troika, which comprises the current and next presidents of the EU as well as top EU officials in charge of foreign policy, and five countries, namely Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Georgia, in addition to Turkey. The summit’s focus will be the fate of the Nabucco project.

The planned pipeline, which will run from Turkey to Austria via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, is part of European efforts to reduce its dependence on Russia for energy and has the backing of the United States. Russia proposes the rival South Stream pipeline, which would run under the Black Sea from Russia to Bulgaria and then into Austria.

Construction of the 3,300-kilometer pipeline is scheduled to start in 2011, and the first deliveries are expected in 2014. The project is expected to cost around 7.9 billion euros. Despite political support from Turkey and the EU, the two sides still need to resolve some practical disagreements.

The suppliers of natural gas are expected to be Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and, in the long term, Kazakhstan. Iran has also proposed to become a supplier but has been rejected by the US.

Turkish officials said Ankara has not yet decided whether Gul will go to the summit. The high-level gathering comes only a day after a meeting of the EU and six former Soviet republics, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

As energy discussions speed up in the EU, Gul is also expected to attend a high-profile energy summit in Bulgaria’s capital of Sofia on April 24-25. The summit will bring together leaders of some 28 countries and representatives from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and focus on critical issues such as how to shape Europe’s new energy policy and seek international energy agreements that will offer lasting energy security.

Turkey’s bid to join the EU is facing resistance from the skeptical European public and leadership of countries such as France and Germany, which claim Turkey does not culturally belong to Europe. But proponents of Turkish membership underline Turkey’s importance as a key energy partner for the EU and urge the 27-nation bloc not to leave Ankara out if it wants to ensure energy security.

Gul is expected to call for more efforts to implement the Nabucco project, sources said. The summit’s participants include Azerbaijan, Egypt, Qatar, Italy, Russia, the United States, Ukraine, Turkmenistan and Germany.

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