(Adds Barroso, Erdogan quotes)
BRUSSELS, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Turkey supports the planned Nabucco pipeline to Europe and would never use it as a weapon in political disputes, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday in a rare visit to Brussels.
His comments came after he started the day by warning that Turkey would review its support for the $12 billion project if the energy portion of its EU accession talks remained blocked.
Russia highlighted the European Union’s vulnerability in recent weeks by cutting gas supplies across Ukraine in a pricing dispute with Kiev.
The move led to the closure of schools, hospitals and factories in southeastern Europe and left tens of thousands of homes without heating.
To curb its longterm reliance on Russia, the EU is backing Nabucco, which might one day carry 30 billion cubic metres (bcm) of Caspian or Middle Eastern gas annually via Turkey.
“We are already a party to Nabucco,” Erdogan told reporters. “We are a carrier country, a transmission country, and we are aware of our responsibilities -- we would never use it as a weapon.”
Earlier on Monday, Erdogan had threatened to review Turkey’s support for the project.
“If we are faced with a situation where the energy chapter is blocked, we would of course review our position,” Erdogan had told a conference in Brussels.
Diplomats say Cyprus has been blocking the opening of talks in the energy area because of a row with Turkey on gas exploration at sea. Energy is one of the 35 areas, or so-called chapters, in Turkey’s accession talks.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters that an issue as important as energy security should not be made conditional upon such a specific issue.
Erdogan’s comments come after Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou told Reuters in an interview last month his country would not agree to let talks on energy start until an oil exploration dispute was resolved.
Cyprus has accused Turkey of harassing hydrocarbon research vessels four times since Nov. 13. Turkey has said the ships, on two known occasions, encroached on its continental shelf.
Erdogan also questioned whether there was available gas to justify the Nabucco project, which crosses Turkey as it passes from Georgia to Bulgaria.
“The information is that the countries that say that they will provide sufficient amounts of natural gas do not have enough natural gas to provide,” he said.
“In the Nabucco project there needs to be 30 billion cubic metres of natural gas flowing, but it’s not there.”
Analysts say only 3 bcm has been sourced for the pipeline, compared to a bare minimum of 15 bcm needed to get it started.
Iran remains a potential source of gas for Nabucco, and Erdogan criticised those countries that oppose taking Iranian gas for political reasons. (Reporting by Ingrid Melander, Writing by Pete Harrison; editing by Sue Thomas)
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