By Aynur Jafarova
The Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway project has great potential and many advantages, Bruce Pannier, the expert on Central Asia and Senior Correspondent at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty believes.
"The Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway project connects oil fields not far from the Caspian coast in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, so it will be useful as another route for shipping oil," Pannier told Azernews on February 18.
He was commenting on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's statement, who has said the construction of the railway will be completed and put into operation soon.
The expert believes the importance of this project will be significantly enhanced "if Iran and the West can reach some agreement that lifts sanctions on Iran."
The overall length of the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway is to be 900 kilometers, with 70 kilometers in Iran, 700 kilometers in Turkmenistan and 130 kilometers in Kazakhstan.
With regards to the affects of this railway project to the strengthening of trade and economic relations of the participant countries Pannier said Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan already have an exemption from international sanctions on Iran.
"Kazakhstan has an oil swap deal with Iran (Kazakh oil across the Caspian to Iran in return for a like amount of Iranian oil that technically belong to Kazakhstan loaded onto tankers in the Persian Gulf) that dates back to the 1990s. Turkmenistan also has been selling a modest amount of natural gas to Iran since the late 1990s," he said.
The expert believes if the sanctions over Iran are lifted several railway lines would be built from northern Iran to the Persian Gulf and large amounts of Central Asian oil and LNG would start coming into Iran for shipment either west toward Europe or south to the Persian Gulf where it could be taken by tanker to India, China, Japan, and other countries.
Also, the trade turnover among the three countries would significantly increase as well.
Pannier didn't exclude the possibility for Kazakhstan to export and Iran to ship fruits and other warm weather produce north.
"Turkmenistan would profit by purchasing some of both as the shipments cross between north and south. For Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan having new access to Iran's Persian Gulf ports bring the promise of goods from south Asia and northern Africa as well," he noted.
The expert also stressed that if the railway shows potential it could branch out north to Russia's railway system and west to Turkey's railway network.
Meanwhile, Pannier noted China will not be involved in this railway project "because Beijing is already planning to extend the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway line. China has already mentioned running that line into Iran in the west and through Kyrgyzstan into China in the east."
As for the dividends, the expert said any project that enriches countries and provides better lives for the peoples of those countries is good for stability.
"As an economic argument this is sound logic," Pannier noted.