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The New York Times: U.S. Courts the Visiting President of Turkmenistan

Published: September 26, 2007

ALMATY, Kazakhstan, Sept. 25 — American officials, striving to weaken the grip of Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy monopoly, in Central Asia, are courting the president of Turkmenistan on his first visit to the United States.

The visit by Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, the first by a Turkmen president since 1998, included a meeting Tuesday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the United Nations and on Wednesday will revolve around the opening of the General Assembly.

American officials said they wanted Mr. Berdymukhammedov to understand that he had other options for developing his country’s extensive natural gas deposits and for shipping the fuel to market.

The United States wants to encourage the development of hydrocarbon sources outside the Middle East while offering Europeans an alternative to Gazprom, which provides nearly a quarter of the Continent’s gas supply.

Russia and more recently China have received the bulk of natural gas exports from Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic. Russia buys 50 billion cubic meters of gas a year at below-market prices. China has signed a development agreement for one of Turkmenistan’s most promising gas fields and will get 30 billion cubic meters, or 1.1 trillion cubic feet of gas, annually over 30 years.

Russia controls all export routes for Turkmen natural gas and plans to expand its main northern pipeline to double its purchases.

An American official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, said: “No one is trying to push Gazprom out of the Caspian — that’s impossible. What we want is for this totally dysfunctional system to change, where Gazprom can practically dictate the price for gas on the Turkmen end and sells it for nearly three times that amount in Europe.”

The official said he expected Russia still to receive most of Turkmen natural gas. But potentially rich fields in Turkmenistan’s sector of the Caspian Sea could yield reserves to be shipped westward through an undersea pipeline to Turkey.

From there, gas could enter a proposed Nabucco pipeline to Eastern Europe or another gas pipeline through Greece.

The size of Turkmenistan’s gas reserves is secret. But analysts and Western officials say that the country may have at least three trillion cubic meters.

Some analysts are cautious. They say that at that level, Turkmenistan would have just enough to fulfill its Russian and Chinese contracts. Beyond that, legal and economic obstacles facing the Caspian pipeline make it a project for the medium to distant future.

“People are getting too far ahead of themselves,” said Jonathan Stern, an analyst at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies in Britain. “We need to see what Turkmenistan’s reserves are and where they are. Then we can start talking about projects.”

Mr. Berdymukhammedov, a former health minister and the dentist of the country’s previous ruler, Saparmurat Niyazov, was an unexpected choice to lead Turkmenistan, a land of some 5.4 million, after Mr. Niyazov died last year.

Under Mr. Niyazov, Turkmenistan was among the world’s most insular countries. Mr. Berdymukhammedov, since taking over in February, has begun to open it to outside influences.

His political actions have raised hopes among Western oil companies and officials that a move toward market economics may not be far behind. Representatives of ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, among others, have met with the Turkmen leader in the capital, Ashgabat, hoping to bolster their reserves and to tap non-OPEC energy sources.

The British energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, in a visit to the region last week, offered to buy Turkmen natural gas at market prices. Mr. Berdymukhammedov said Turkmenistan was willing to sell gas to Europe. and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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