BAKU (Bloomberg)–President Barack Obama has pledged to promote cooperation with Azerbaijan in the oil-rich Caspian region in a letter addressed to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev.
Washington’s promise of cooperation comes as the U.S. administration seeks to expand a “southern energy corridor” to Europe that bypasses Russia.
“I look forward to continuing to work closely with Azerbaijan,” Obama said the letter. “Azerbaijan will find a strong friend and partner in the U.S.”
The message was read out Tuesday at the beginning of an oil industry exhibition in the Azeri capital of Baku by Richard Morningstar, Obama’s new envoy for Caspian energy and an architect of U.S. policy toward the region.
While Obama has promised to “reset” relations with Russia after they reached a post-Cold War low under George W. Bush, the U.S. policy toward the Caspian region hasn’t changed. Starting with the administration of Bill Clinton, the U.S. has supported alternative pipeline projects as a way for former Soviet republics to maintain their independence.
Russia, which still controls most of the energy export routes out of the Caspian basin, considers U.S. lobbying in the region as political interference. Gazprom, Russia’s largest energy producer, is seeking to buy up all excess gas volumes from producers such as Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan to thwart rival projects.
“We have to work with Russia on issues on which we agree and disagree,” Morningstar said in an interview. “I would not prejudge how our energy relationship will work.”
Russia should not view the “southern corridor” as a zero-sum game, said Morningstar, one of the promoters in the 1990s of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline that circumvents Russia.
“We’d love to see opportunities where we could work with Russia again on projects where Russia was a partner and not necessarily seeking a controlling interest,” Morningstar added.