By Aynur Jafarova - Azernews:
The timing of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's offer to include Turkmenistan as a supplier to the Trans-Anatolian (TANAP) gas pipeline project was ideal for the Central Asian country, expert Bruce Pannier believes.
"Two of Turkmenistan's gas customers - Iran and Russia - are cutting back imports from Turkmenistan and there could be a day soon when neither country will want any gas from Turkmenistan," the expert on Central Asia and Senior Correspondent at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty told Azernews on November 11.
"That leaves China as the only reliable customer for Turkmen gas since the TAPI project is unlikely to be launched any time soon, if ever."
Last week, Erdogan, who was on an official visit in Ashgabat said the TANAP project could also count on supply of Turkmen gas to Europe.
"TANAP may transport gas both from Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to Europe through Turkey's territory," Erdogan said.
TANAP, developed by SOCAR in collaboration with Turkish Botas and the energy company TPAO, will deliver Shah Deniz gas to the Turkish-Greek border from eastern Turkey.
The initial capacity of the pipeline will be 16 billion cubic meters of gas a year. TANAP will link up with Trans-Adriatic (TAP) pipeline on the Turkish-Greek border. About six billion cubic meters of gas will be delivered to Turkey and the rest to Europe. The costs of the TANAP project are estimated at $10 billion to $11 billion.
Energy-rich Turkmenistan, a major energy producer in the Central Asian region and the fourth country in the world after Russia, Iran, and Qatar in terms of natural gas resources, has been eager to sell its gas to Europe, but the country lacks export route connecting it to the European markets.
Pannier believes Erdogan's offer was short on details about such a route to bring Turkmen gas to Turkey's eastern border but there are two options.
"The first is the long-discussed Trans-Caspian pipeline connecting Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan across the bottom of the Caspian Sea. While technically not difficult that route will encounter obstacles due to Russian and probably Iranian objections. Still, if Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan agree to such a pipeline and the European Union is willing to help see it built, as Brussels has indicated several times, it could be built quickly," he said.
"The second option would be to build a pipeline across northern Iran. Given the political difficulties of involving in any international projects it would seem a remote possibility that the route could be realized," the expert added. "But, as we see now, Western nations and Iran are moving toward a compromise over Tehran's nuclear development program. Such a compromise could allow Iran to participate in the transit of Turkmen gas to Turkey."
Also, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have been allowed to ship oil across the Caspian Sea to Iran under "swap" arrangements where Iran takes a certain amount of Kazakh or Turkmen oil at its Caspian ports and ships a similar amount Iranian oil from ports on the Persian Gulf for export to other countries.
"Washington has never raised any objections since the deal provides that Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan receive the money for the oil, not Iran," Pannier noted. "If Turkey could lobby the EU and the U.S. to view Turkmen gas transiting Iran as a benefit for Turkey and the EU it could be possible to "overlook" Iran's role in the pipeline. Of course Turkey would probably have to agree to keep watch and ensure Iran was not taking any of the gas or profiting on its sale in Europe."
Pannier believes with the current tensions between Russia and the West and the real possibility of reductions in Russian gas exports to Europe, this could be the right time for some creative diplomacy regarding Iran.
"That could deliver huge benefits for Turkmenistan," he concluded.