Turkey says no link between Nabucco and EU talks

VIENNA, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Turkey will support the planned Nabucco pipeline even if talks on its membership to the European Union stall, a senior government official said on Friday, adding if that were to happen progress on the project may be delayed.

To curb its reliance on Russia, the EU is backing the 3,300-km (2,051-mile), 7.9 billion euro ($10.1 billion) Nabucco pipeline which would carry Caspian gas across Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to an Austrian distribution hub from 2013.

Last month Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said his country supported the pipeline and would never use it as a weapon in political disputes. But he also said Turkey would review its support if the energy portion of its EU accession talks remained blocked. “We will press ahead with Nabucco even if the accession talks don’t make progress,” Selim Kuneralp, a senior Turkish government official dealing with Nabucco, said in an interview published in Austrian daily Die Presse.

“However, it could take a bit longer then,” he said, adding: “There is no formal link between (Turkey’s) EU accession and Nabucco, because Nabucco is advantageous for Turkey anyway.”

The project has been plagued by delays over investment decisions, changes in EU law, disputes between consortium members and the question of where it would get its supplies.

Kuneralp, who is deputy undersecretary at the Turkish foreign ministry in charge of economic affairs, said progress on Nabucco would be accelerated if the energy portion of Turkey’s EU accession talks was opened.

Diplomats say Cyprus has been blocking it because of a row with Turkey over gas exploration at sea. Energy is one of the 35 areas, or so-called chapters, in Turkey’s accession talks.

“If Turkey could start the energy chapter of the accession talks, this would speed up the adoption of EU law on energy policy and therefore also speed up Nabucco,” he said.

He criticised the EU for having wasted time in the past because nobody was in charge of the project, but added that he noticed a pickup in motivation since the Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute last month interrupted gas supplies.

The main gas suppliers for the pipeline will be Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, Kuneralp said. Turkey would have no objections against Russia and Iran as suppliers, he added.

Nabucco's shareholders are Austria's OMV OMVV.VI, Hungary's MOL MOLB.BU, Romania's Transgaz TGNM.BX, Bulgaria's Bulgargaz, Turkey's Botas and Germany's RWE RWEG.DE. (Reporting by Boris Groendahl; Editing by Katie Nguyen)