Turkey plans Iran connection on gas

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TURKEY'S state pipeline company, Botas, said yesterday that the oil-rich Central Asian state of Turkmenistan had agreed on a gas pipeline route through Turkey to Europe, probably to be built through Iran.

Hayrettin Uzun for Botas said the 15 billion cubic metre- per-year pipeline would act as an alternative source of supply of natural gas to the increasingly hungry Turkish market.

Turkey gets most of its natural gas from Russia in an agreement soon to reach six billion cubic metres per year. But Turkey was shocked this month when supplies briefly halved in volume. Some suspected a price negotiation tactic, but Moscow said Romania and Ukraine might have been siphoning off more than their share.

The idea of routing pipelines from the former Soviet Union through Iran was previously thought unacceptable to most of Turkey's Western partners. Such fears have helped delay another pipeline project by which Turkey hoped to bring Azerbaijani and Central Asian oil and gas to world markets.

But even though Turkish- Iranian relations have improved markedly in recent months, Turkey has yet to solve the major obstacle to any pipeline through eastern Turkey: more and more vicious fighting between Turkish security forces and separatist Kurdish rebels.

Despite this, Mr Uzun said Turkey also planned to build an oil pipeline from the Syrian-Iraqi border to the Black Sea to help supply the Ukraine with Middle Eastern energy.