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Iran/Nabucco boosts Turkey’s energy bridge

When it comes to energy politics, there are no permanent friends, only interests. And Turkey is clearly looking out for its own interests, as can be seen by looking at the September deal, announced by the state-owned Turkiye Petrolleri AO, to invest some $3 billion over 10 years to develop three blocks in Iran’s massive South Pars gas field.

The agreement includes plans for two pipelines that could ship 30 billion cubic meters per year of gas from Iran and Turkmenistan to Turkey’s Erzerum terminal. From there, the Nabucco pipeline (to be started in 2009 and completed in 2012) will eventually ship natural gas via Bulgaria to Austria for sale in Europe. The Nabucco project is a joint venture among five companies, each with 20%: Austria’s OMV, Hungary’s MOL, Romania’s Transgaz, Bulgaria’s Bulgargaz, and Turkey’s BOTAS. Though the deal with Iran clearly undermines America’s ongoing effort to isolate the Iranian mullahs, it also represents the latest move in a cat-and-mouse energy game being played out by Turkey and Russia in a bid to control Western supplies.

In July 2006, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan inaugurated the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) crude oil pipeline, he referred to the BTC as “the Silk Road of the 21st Century.” The remark was an acknowledgement that the BTC and the proposed Baku-Tbilisi-Erzegum gas pipeline represent a key three-fold development: the growing importance of energy supply routes, an alternative to Russian-controlled energy supplies for Europe and the West, and a major step for Turkey’s aspiration to become the key East-West “energy bridge.” For Ankara, as with Moscow, the East-West energy pipeline contest has become a way to assert geopolitical influence – and, in Turkey’s case, possibly speed up its inclusion into the EU. (