- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

A Montana senator called on the United States to import more oil from Russia yesterday, becoming the latest policy-maker to endorse a stronger alliance between the two nations on energy matters.

Sen. Conrad Burns, a Republican, said Russia and the Caspian states present the best opportunity for the United States to reduce its dependence on Middle Eastern oil, especially from rogue nations such as Iraq.

The United States imports 23.7 percent of its oil from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, but virtually none from the Caspian region, even though it is the source of an estimated 33 billion barrels of oil reserves.

"Last year we sent $4 billion to Saddam Hussein in oil money. Some of our allies call it oil-for-food. I think it is oil-for-terror," Mr. Burns said in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington.

His remarks came one day after former CIA Director James Woolsey urged the Bush administration to rethink its energy policy, saying changes are needed if the nation wants to win the war on terrorism.

Oil wealth in the Middle East helps sustain terrorism, Mr. Woolsey said.

"They understand the leverage they hold has a lot to do with our own behavior, and we must start to understand that as well," he said.

Mr. Woolsey urged the Bush administration to increase Russian oil production by 50 percent, and also called for increasing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to 1 billion barrels.

The biggest impediment to the United States' importing more oil from Russia has been transportation, according to Ed Porter, an analyst for the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group.

"You have to have big pipelines that go across a lot of land in order to get your product to market," Mr. Porter said.

A $3 billion pipeline from Baku a city on the western shore of the Caspian Sea to Ceyhan, Turkey, is slated to open in 2005, making the export of Russian oil easier, he said.

Mr. Burns, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the United States welcomes "the construction of Caspian pipelines, which can unleash millions of barrels of landlocked oil."

U.S. business leaders say crime also has been an impediment to doing business in Russia. Mr. Burns urged Russia to fight crime and implement financial reforms.

Mr. Burns' speech came just a few hours after a top executive in Russia's biggest oil company was seized by masked gunmen on his way to work.

Lukoil Chief Financial Officer Sergei Kukura, 53, was being taken to work by his driver-bodyguard when his car was stopped by abductors armed with Kalashnikov rifles, the company's press service said. Mr. Kukura was driven away in a second vehicle.

No shots were fired and Mr. Kukura's bodyguard was not harmed. Police are investigating, the press service said.

Lukoil is Russia's biggest oil company, accounting for more than 20 percent of Russia's oil exports. The state owns a 7.5 percent stake in the company, which last month became the first Russian company to list its shares on the London Stock Exchange.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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