U.S. urges Turkmenistan to diversify gas exports

ASHGABAT, Sept 4 Thu Sep 4, 2008 1:13pm EDT

ASHGABAT, Sept 4 (Reuters) - A senior U.S. official on Thursday urged the Central Asian resource-rich state of Turkmenistan to diversify its natural gas export routes.

Ex-Soviet Turkmenistan, which sells most of its gas to Russia, is currently building a pipeline to China.

The West is lobbying for another route, the Nabucco pipeline, that would deliver 30 billion cubic metres of Caspian Sea gas per year to Europe, bypassing Russia and instead going through the Caucasus.

"Time shows that this proposal (the Nabucco pipeline) is viable," Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Krol told reporters.

Krol met Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov earlier on Thursday. Besides Nabucco, they discussed U.S. participation in developing Turkmenistan's gas reserves.

"This requires a lot of investment and technologies," Krol said.

Washington has stepped up its advocacy of the Nabucco pipeline since the war between Georgia and Russia in early August.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, on a tour of U.S. allies in the Caucasus region that started in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan, stopped in Georgia and continued in Ukraine late on Thursday, pushed for Nabucco and other U.S.-backed energy plans.

The United States and the European Union want Nabuccco as a alternative to the Nord and South Stream pipelines that will be part-operated by Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM) and will pipe Russian gas to western Europe.

It is not yet clear whether Nabucco would pump Azeri or Turkmen gas, or both. Middle Eastern countries such as Iran are also Nabucco candidates, the pipeline's operator has said.

Chevron (CVX.N) was the first U.S. company to enter Central Asia in the 1990s when it bought a stake in Kazakhstan's Tengiz oil field. Its Kazakh venture is now the country's largest oil producer.

Locked away during Soviet times and later under the 21-year rule of its late leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan has been slowly opening its doors since Berdymukhamedov came to power in December 2006 and began to seek foreign investment.

Earlier this week, Berdymukhamedov met visiting Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler who said his country was interested in buying Turkmen gas. (Reporting by Marat Gurt; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov, editing by Amie Ferris-Rotman and Anthony Barker)

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