BAKU (Reuters)–Azeri leader Haydar Aliyev told visiting Turkish President Ahmed Necdet Sezer on Tuesday Azerbaijan was keen to begin work on a US-backed oil pipeline that would terminate in Turkey and bypass both Iran and Russia.
Necdet made his first official foreign trip as president to Azerbaijan–the former Soviet republic Turkey sees as a key base for access to the markets of the energy rich Caspian states Kazakhstan–Turkmen’stan and Uzbekistan.
During their two-hour meeting–Aliyev urged Sezer to speed up development of the oil pipeline–which will carry Caspian oil to Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan–a route strongly favored by the United States.
“I think there are no problems concerning the oil pipeline and we ought to begin carrying out the project,” Aliyev said. The pipeline is slated for completion in late 2004 if financing is forthcoming.
The $2.4 billion crude line will bypass Russia and southern neighbor Iran–two countries that have traditionally vied with Turkey for influence over the southern Caucasus region.
Sezer reaffirmed his country’s political support for Azerbaijan and continued cooperation in the sphere of oil and gas transportation during his first official foreign trip.
In visiting Azerbaijan–Sezer was following in the footsteps of his predecessor Suleyman Demirel–who made closer relations with Azerbaijan and other Turkic-speaking ex-Soviet republics in Central Asia one of the pillars of his foreign policy.
“I think I made the right decision to make my first official foreign trip to Azerbaijan and the warm reception I received here shows the special relationship between the two countries,” Sezer told Aliyev.
Sezer visited northern Cyprus recently–but the breakaway state and its leadership are not recognized by the international community.
Azerbaijan is eager to cement its relationship with Turkey through the construction of two multi-billion dollar oil and gas pipelines–which they hope will ensure their political and economic independence from former imperial ruler Russia.
A second pipeline from a giant offshore Azeri gas field to the Turkish border was also on the agenda and Aliyev said it was time to resolve the question over gas deliveries to Turkey.
BP Amoco–which leads the consortium that discovered the field last year–is waiting for Azerbaijan and Turkey to sign a crucial gas purchase agreement before they can proceed with their $1.3 billion gas development plan.