- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

The United States must lessen its dependency on Middle Eastern oil and expand its trade with non-OPEC nations, officials and analysts said yesterday as the nation headed into war with Iraq.
Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations interior subcommittee, said the United States should turn to Russia, other former Soviet republics and West Africa for oil, and insisted that the country's reliance on oil from "rogue" nations such as Iran and Iraq threatens its security.
"The attack on [September 11] by Islamic extremists should have been a wake-up call to the nation that our vital security interests are threatened by our increased dependence on Middle East oil imports," Mr. Burns said. "I am sorry to say that our nation still slumbers."
The price of a barrel of crude oil fell nearly $2 yesterday to $29.88. Prices had been as high as $37 earlier this week, but began tumbling after President Bush said Monday that a war with Iraq was nearly certain.
Mr. Burns made his comments in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, along with Roger Robinson, an energy consultant and chairman of the William J. Casey Institute, and Ariel Cohen, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
The Energy Information Administration estimates that the region around the Caspian Sea bounded by Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan contains about 10 billion barrels of oil in proven reserves, and produces about 1.3 million barrels per day.
Analysts said imports from that region can increase, particularly after the completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Cehan pipeline that will stretch 1,038 miles from Azerbaijan to a Mediterranean seaport off Turkey.
Completion of the pipeline is scheduled for 2005.
Increasing output from countries outside the Middle East would not only improve U.S. security, but also boost energy flow to populous nations such as China and India, Mr. Robinson said.
The panel said political changes in many nations would lead to privatization of oil, and therefore, greater production.
Mr. Cohen, who has written extensively on the issue of America's need to diversify its sources of oil, said toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq will lead to increased energy supplies.
"I envision an Iraq with a government that allows for private property, that allows privatization, that allows investment," said Mr. Cohen, who estimated that Iraqi oil output would increase threefold under a democratic regime.
Mr. Cohen also said a new government in Venezuela, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries experiencing political instability, would better serve the United States. The United States gets about 10 percent of its oil from Venezuela.

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