Azeri Minister Backs Nabucco Pipeline to Europe

BAKU (AFP)–A top Azerbaijani official on Tuesday renewed his country’s support for an EU-backed project to build the Nabucco gas pipeline to Europe, following fears the Georgia crisis could derail the project.

"Azerbaijan is not giving up on the Nabucco project. This is a project that has a future," Industry and Energy Minister Natik Aliyev said at an oil and gas conference in Baku.

The Nabucco project is intended to bring gas to Europe from the energy-rich countries of the Caspian Sea region, bypassing Russian territory and thus reducing dependence on Russian supplies.

Speaking at the same conference, Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler also expressed confidence that Nabucco would go ahead.

"The Nabucco project will be implemented and it is beneficial not only for Turkey but also for the whole of Europe," he said.

But while voicing the support of this crucial oil and gas producer, the Azerbaijani minister sounded a note of caution, saying supplies for the future pipeline could not be provided solely from Azerbajani sources.

Noting "difficulties in identifying sources of hydrocarbon reserves for the pipeline," he said Azerbaijan "will not be able to ensure the project through its own resources."

The recent conflict between Georgia and Russia has raised fears that Azerbaijan and other oil and gas producers in the Caspian area could turn their backs on Georgia as a route for exporting to the West.

Moscow has been courting Azerbaijan in recent months with offers of major gas purchases and US Vice President Dick Cheney visited the country last week in what analysts said was a bid to counter Russian overtures.

The Nabucco pipeline would run 3,300-kilometres via Turkey and the Balkan states to Austria. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2009, with the completion date set for 2013.

Russia backs a rival pipeline, South Stream, being built by Gazprom and ENI of Italy. That project entails a gas pipeline under the Black Sea from Russia to Bulgaria and then branches to Austria and Italy.

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