- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

ANKARA, Turkey — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday lobbied Greece and Turkey to reject Russia’s offer of natural gas supplies for a new pipeline between the two countries, throwing Washington’s support behind a bid from Azerbaijan.

During visits to Athens and Ankara, Miss Rice urged the two neighbors as well as other European countries to “diversify” their energy supplies and decrease their dependence on Russian resources.

“It’s quite clear that one of the concerns is that there could be a monopoly of supply from one source only, from Russia,” she said at a press conference with Greek Foreign Minister Theodora Bakoyannis.

“We do know that there are discussions about alternative pipelines, about ways to bring gas from places like Azerbaijan,” she said three days before Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is scheduled to visit Washington. “We are supportive of those.”

The $746 million pipeline project is a joint venture between the Greek and Turkish state-owned gas companies, Depa and Botas. Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas monopoly, and Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, have offered to participate.

The gas pipeline is being built by an international consortium led by Norway’s Statoil, with major participation by British Petroleum.

The United States supported the project from the beginning because it presented an opportunity to improve relations between the two Balkan rivals.

But senior U.S. officials traveling with Miss Rice said the project has new significance in the context of “energy security” in Europe, which relies on Russia for most of its natural gas supplies.

“There is going to be a very strong emphasis for all of us on energy security,” the secretary said. “It’s a question of diversification of energy supply in general.”

A senior State Department official said Miss Rice has been thinking seriously about energy’s impact on foreign policy since her trip to Central Asia in October, more than two months before Russia cut gas supplies to Ukraine over a price dispute.

“I can tell you that nothing has really taken me aback more as secretary of state than the way that the politics of energy is — I will use the word warping — diplomacy around the world,” Miss Rice said at a Senate hearing earlier this month.

Russia’s move against Ukraine, which affected supplies to Western Europe, was a wake-up call for the Europeans, who have been discussing it both at the national level and in the European Union.

“We need to have diverse sources of energy, both in the country and throughout Europe,” Mrs. Bakoyannis said at the press conference with Miss Rice.

Neither Greece nor Turkey has made a decision whether to accept the Russian or Azerbaijani bid.

Gazprom yesterday rejected pressure from the European Union to give up its monopoly on gas exports to Europe as the 25-member bloc demanded that Russia ratify the International Energy Charter, which would in effect open up its gas pipelines to competition.

Alexander Medvedev, Gazprom’s deputy chief executive in charge of exports, called the treaty “a stillborn document.” The European Union views the signing of the charter as a way to force Russia to be more transparent about its energy sector.

“It doesn’t reflect the true conditions of the current market,” Mr. Medvedev said of the treaty at the Russian Economic Forum in London, according to wire reports.

Last week, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller warned Europe that the company would look for markets in America and Asia if the European Union tries to limit its expansion on the continent.

“There are two concepts available to the world: a weak Russia or a strong Russia. And the same is applicable to Gazprom. A strong Gazprom is good for the world,” Mr. Medvedev said yesterday. “Energy is always political, but politicizing the economic side of the business is very dangerous.”

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