Trans-Caspian pipeline to prevent Iranian gas from reaching Europe

Azerbaijan, Baku, Sept. 23 /Trend T.Konyayeva/

The Trans-Caspian gas pipeline will reduce Iran's chances to become a gas exporter for Europe, experts believe.

"Protecting its national interest, as a potential gas exporter, Iran naturally cannot be supportive of other exporters in the market," Professor Reza Taghizadeh, a member of the Trend Experts Council, wrote in an email. "The Trans-Caspian pipeline limits Iran capability to become Europe's energy partner. Iran will support such a project if only its own supply of gas will be taken on board."

Last week, the EU adopted a mandate to negotiate a legally binding treaty between the EU, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to build a Trans-Caspian Pipeline System.

Later, Iran and Russia expressed negative attitude toward this project. Tehran and Moscow think that the pipeline construction will damage the Caspian Sea environment.

The pipeline, with a length of 300 kilometers, will be laid from the Turkmen coast of the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan, where it will be connected to the Southern Gas Corridor.
Talks between Turkmenistan and the EU and other countries on the construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline have been conducted since late 1990s. Its construction is now difficult because of unresolved status of the Caspian Sea.

In addition to economic reasons, Taghizadeh thinks Iran's opposition to the Trans-Caspian pipeline has both political and environmental dimensions.

"The environmental concerns are undeniable because the Caspian Sea's unique ecological system is excessively fragile. The Caspian Sea is closed, and vulnerable towards manmade hazards, such as excessive pollution resulted from further oil and gas productions," he said.

Besides, the Caspian basin is located right on the earthquake built, Taghizadeh added.

"Therefore, any quack under the sea water and around the region could break the pipe, releasing poisonous gases into the sea water and endangering marine life so gravely, before being controlled. The depth of the sea near Iranian coastlines, which is about 980 meters, makes it no more palpable to take," he said.

As regards to political reasons, Taghizadeh believes that the Trans-Caspian pipeline would definitely compromise common ownership of the sea status, and in a way, could divide boundaries of the littoral states.

"However, Russia and Iran both prefer to stay connected and enjoy the benefits of being neighbours," he said.

Taghizadeh thinks Iran would do its best to stand firmly against the Trans-Caspian pipeline, before the legal status of the Caspian Sea is determined.

"At this stage Iran demands the assumption of a dynamic role in the Caspian Sea energy economy plus a faire share of its sea water and the natural resources. None has yet been offered to it and therefore Iran could see no further loses to be incurred if stands on the way of its neighbours developing their own resources," he said.

In November 2003, the Caspian littoral countries (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan) signed the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea.

In July 1998 Russia and Kazakhstan signed an agreement on the delineation of the northern part of the Caspian Sea in order to exercise sovereign rights for subsoil use.

On Nov. 29, 2001, and Feb. 27, 2003, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan signed an agreement on the delineation of the Caspian Sea.

Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Russia signed an agreement on the delineation of adjacent sections of the Caspian Sea on May 14, 2003.

As to finalizing the legal status of the Caspian Sea, the consultations are under way on this issue.

U.S. Northeastern University Professor Kamran Dadkhah also believes that the real reasons for Iranian and Russian opposition to the Trans-Caspian pipeline are economic benefits and political motives.

"First, the project does not involve Iran and Russia although Russia has the largest proven gas reserves and Iran the second largest. Thus, they feel that they are left out of a significant gas project feeding Europe," Dadkhah wrote Trend in an email.

He believes Iran feels it is left out of this project as well as the Nabucco pipeline.

"This would have been an opportunity for Iran to break into the market. But of course the problem is the international sanctions and the opposition of the United States and some European countries to Iran participation," Dadkhah said.

A second reason for both countries to oppose the project is that the legal framework and boundaries of sovereignty over the Caspian Sea are not finalized, the expert believes.

"Iran feels that it has been cheated out of its rightful share in the resources of the sea. The gas project extending a pipeline under the water without the participation of Iran would be de facto recognition of the usage of the sea by Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan without regard for Iran's right," Dadkhah said.

For some unclear reasons, Iran's opposition to the project has been rather mute, he concluded.

The European Union's talks with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on the project of laying Trans-Caspian pipeline will begin in October, European External Action Service (EEAS) Director for Eastern Partnership Gunnar Wiegand told journalists in Baku on Sept. 23.

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