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EU and Central Asia pledge closer energy ties

European Union and Central Asian states pledged on Thursday to forge closer energy ties, after war in Georgia highlighted their dependence on neighboring Russia as a supplier and customer.

At a one-day meeting in Paris, foreign ministers discussed the Georgian crisis and issues ranging from terrorism to drugs and human trafficking. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, and counterparts from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan were guarded on the concrete results of their talks. “We will reinforce our cooperation in energy without prejudice to current cooperation,” they said in a joint statement that reflected a broad spectrum of views, including those of relatively pro-Russian states such as Kazakhstan.

The EU wants to reduce its dependency on Russian gas and hopes Central Asian states will provide a greater share of its energy mix. The EU argues it is in those states’ interest to sell more of their supplies to countries other than Russia. “Strengthening our energy partnership with Central Asia is of course a top political priority for the European Union,” EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a speech at the start of the meeting. “The region, we know, is central to our strategy of diversification of energy supplies and supply routes, a policy that is all the more pertinent after the events of this summer. And the events in the Caucasus have given both Central Asia and Europe, I think, a lot of food for thought,” she added.

 
FRANK TALKS

The European Union also pledged in the statement to help develop hydroelectric power in Central Asia. While Georgia was not mentioned in the final statement, Kouchner said it was discussed at length during the meeting and at a dinner the night before. “Last night there was an exceptionally frank discussion. They had never spoken to each other like that, even amongst themselves,” he told France Culture radio during the meeting.

French officials say the meeting was partly aimed at helping the former Soviet Central Asian states, bordered by Russia to the north and China to the east, to resist pressure from Moscow. “One of the aims of tomorrow’s talks is to help them resist further,” one French diplomat told reporters on Wednesday. Kouchner dismissed the suggestion that human rights should have been a more central theme at the talks.

Turkmenistan’s Paris embassy was briefly occupied by supporters of rights group Reporters Without Borders in protest at the country’s detention of a journalist and a rights activist. The French Foreign Ministry said Kouchner had demanded that the pair be released at a meeting with his Turkmen counterpart, who did not attend the closing news conference. (Reuters)