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27.07.04á07:21
THE FIGHT FOR CASPIAN OIL
IRAN SPEEDS UP WORK ON IMPROVING INFRASTRUCTURE TO TRANSPORT "BLACK GOLD" FROM TURKMENISTAN AND KAZAKHSTAN

The fight for Caspian oil transportation doesn't stop for a single day. There is no doubt great powers' influence on oil producing countries is very significant in this fight. In fact, the U.S. has secured the Azerbaijani government's consent to transport westwards a major bulk of oil from their sector in the Caspian.

For example, aside from the construction of Baku - Supsa oil pipeline, the construction of Baku - Jeikhan oil pipeline is in full swing. That is why Russian deputy foreign minister of foreign affairs Viktor Kalyuzhny cannot help but call this project the American one. At the same time, he doesn't conceal that Russia will lose hundreds of millions US dollars by having this project realized.

However, today the U.S. is much more concerned with what direction Kazakh and Turkmen oil fill flow. Surely, in the issue of oil transportation routes Washington, first of all, pursues its own geopolitical interests to ensure a steady supply of energy resources to the country.

The Caspian Sea by its oil reserves will never become an alternative to the Arabian Peninsula, though in case of a crisis in one of the countries of the oil cartel in the Arabian Peninsula, stable oil flow from the Caspian region can ease tensions over "black gold" supplies.

In view of this, the U.S. government supports any initiative on routing pipelines through the territories of west-oriented countries like Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. However, Georgian unmeasured needs may serve as an impediment to oil production in the Caspian eastern shore. At the first sight, one could expect that the new Georgian leadership with Michael Saakashvili on top, understanding the necessity to attract Kazakh and Turkmen oil, would offer reduced tariffs. And there was even aired a statement on reducing tariffs on transportation of oil from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The Ministry of transportation of Azerbaijan believes the reduction of tariffs on oil and oil products transportation by the Georgian railway has to be continued too. A $1 reduction (from $6 to $5) is a positive step, although not that significant. The official transportation tariff at the Georgian stretch of the railway was $5 as of March 1. The Georgian side increased it by $1 referring to the fight against illegal fees that are "charged as a matter of fact."

The Ministry of transportation of Azerbaijan believes that, first of all, one has to reduce tariffs on transshipment in the Batumi's port terminal that today stand at $14 per ton. Tariffs on the same services in Azerbaijan's Caspian terminals are $5 and even less in the Russian terminals.

Transportation along the Azerbaijan-Georgian route has its advantages. Russia ships oil and oil products to the port of Novorossyisk, whose oil terminal is currently overloaded, resulting in transportation delays. Weather conditions in Batumi compare favorably with that of Novorossyisk. However, in experts' opinion, the prospect of attracting additional volumes of oil will hardly persuade Georgia to reduce port fees in Batumi. The main reason of Georgian side remains high oil prices in the world markets ("Sharg").

A habit to count someone else's money in the pockets of neighbors has been likely inherited by the present Georgian leadership from ex-president Edward Shevardnadze. It is worth recalling the Azerbaijani side gave up its share of revenues from oil transportation by the AIOC consortium through Baku - Jeikhan pipeline in favor of Tbilisi.

The Georgian side should perhaps understand that it is not the Azerbaijani government that will decide in the end of the day what route will be chosen to transport oil from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. And the Iranian route, not Russian, will likely be the main rival of the Azerbaijani-Georgian stretch.

Unlike Azerbaijan, the U.S. has no such great influence in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in particular. The Iranian leadership has sensed that and started paying specific attention to possibilities of transporting Kazakh and Turkmen oil through its territory.

As Iran.ru reports referring to Iran news, on July 16 chairman of the expediency council of Iran Ayatollah Khashemi Rafsandjani visited Neka's oil terminal facilities and got acquainted with progress in implementation of a project on supplies of crude oil from the Caspian countries.

Reporting this, deputy oil minister of Iran in charge of oil and gas fields in the Caspian Sea Khamdollah Mokhamednejad noted that implementation of the CROSS project that began 75 days ago was in full compliance with the scheduled program. At present, over 120 thousand barrels of crude come daily in the Neka terminal from Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan, and from there oil is channeled to oil refineries in Tebriz and Tehran through a pipeline.

According to Khamdollah Mokhamednejad, Akbar Khashemi Rafsandjani examined facilities and a central control panel of the terminal, oil storages, docks, shipyards of SADR company and surveyed construction of ships and water platforms. Besides, he saw oil tankers of neighboring countries that carry Caspian crude to the Neka terminal.

Dwelling on the issue of oil shipments from the Kazakh Kumkol oil field by railway, Khamdollah Mokhamednejad said that at present Iran receives some 10 thousand barrels of crude per day by Serakhs - Meshkhed railway within the framework of this project and sends it to the Tehran oil refinery. At the same time the deputy minister reported that it was planned to increase oil shipments from the Kumkol oil field from 10 to 40 thousand barrels per day in the coming three months.

It is clear that the Georgian side will have to revise one more time its tariffs on transportation of oil and oil products through its territory, otherwise Kazakh and Turkmen oil will "run" by sea and railway to Iran. And later, if Iranian route proves its reliability to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, construction of a pipeline with greater capacity will be quite possible. And Iran, having once lost a route to transport Azerbaijani oil through its territory, may revenge by attracting Kazakh and Turkmen oil...

F. ASIMOV

"Zerkalo" (Baku), 17.07.2004.

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