quinta-feira, 10 de janeiro de 2008

Iran to restore gas flow, but row continues

A senior Iranian official yesterday told Reuters news agency that natural gas deliveries to Turkey had not been completely cut and that the head of the national gas company, Reza Kasaizadeh, had promised they would be gradually increased. Iran, one of Ankara's main gas suppliers, stopped pumping to Turkey on Monday, Turkish officials have said, with Tehran blaming the disruption on cold weather and a cut in Turkmen gas supplies.

The cut came on the same day that Turkey's President Abdullah Gül was holding talks with US President George W. Bush at the White House, where Turkey's role as a transit country in energy field was discussed in detail.

The same Iranian official, however, did not specify when his country would restart gas flow -- a vagueness that has kept the controversy over Iran's motive in this move alive. He said he believed Turkmenistan wanted to increase prices for its gas and that this was a factor in its move to cut deliveries to Iran some 10 days ago. Like other Iranian officials, he said Turkmenistan had cited technical problems. Turkish Energy Ministry officials told Today's Zaman on Wednesday that Iran has recently also decreased the amount of electricity given to Turkey from 2 million kWh per day to 1.5 million kWh per day.

Although Iran has cited cold weather and a cut in Turkmen gas supplies as reasons for cutting the flow of natural gas to Turkey, the fact that Iran has in the past halted natural gas deliveries to Turkey several times during the winter, citing increased domestic demand for the fuel, has led to question marks in the Turkish media and the public. The most common question was over whether Tehran aimed at putting political pressure on Turkey via these actions at a time when Ankara has been improving its ties with Iran's rival, the United States, with increased cooperation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) based in northern Iraq.

Iran's suspension of gas supplies to Turkey is "a serious warning to the nature of this regime," according to the US capital, which has defined Iran's decision-making process as "certainly opaque."

During a daily press briefing on Monday, in response to a question, US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack noted that the topic of Iran cutting off natural gas supplies to Turkey was not on the agenda of talks between Gül and the US secretary of state, held ahead of Gül's meeting with Bush later in the day.

"As for the Iranian specific action, it has more to do with Iran and Turkey. But certainly, you know, that sort of use of those commodities as a political tool is a real warning sign to the nature of this regime, a real warning sign to others about the nature of this regime and their willingness to do those sorts of things. Now, I saw some quotes from the Iranians saying that this was due to some technical difficulty or some sort of malfunction. I don't know. I can't speak to that. But those -- when you add that kind of behavior into the other kinds of behaviors that we have seen from this Iranian regime, I think it paints the kind of picture of a regime that is not reliable, that is certainly opaque in its decision-making process and is not interested in playing a positive role in the region or on the global stage," the US diplomat, nonetheless, added.

Despite criticism from the US, Ankara is trying to deepen energy ties with Iran and plans to invest billions in Iranian energy projects. As of Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that he would ask Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to restore the flow of natural gas to Turkey.

As of yesterday, a senior Turkish Energy Ministry official told Reuters that Turkey has halted the flow of Azeri gas to Greece due to a suspension of gas supplies from Iran to Turkey. He said an agreement had been reached with Greece to make up for the cut in their supplies in the coming days. The pipeline between Turkey and Greece was inaugurated last November in a fresh step to boost ties between the former foes. It will eventually carry some 12 bcm of gas a year -- 3 bcm of which will be for Greece -- from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field.

Former bureaucrat says Iran halted gas due to unconfirmed agreement

A senior former Turkish bureaucrat involved in energy issues also expressed doubt on Wednesday concerning Iran's move. Iran has stopped natural gas flow to Turkey as a reaction to Ankara's dragging its feet to complete the signing process of the preliminary agreement on Iran's South Pars region, according to the former president of the Energy Market Regulatory Agency (EPDK), Yusuf Günay.

Günay, speaking with the Cihan news agency, also suggested that the timing of Iran's cutting off gas flow coinciding with Gül's visit to Washington was not a coincidence, while noting that the US' pressure was the main reason behind Turkey's avoidance of signing the agreement.

The preliminary deal between Turkey and Iran some six months ago was including an agreement to pump gas from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Iran and Tehran's approval for Ankara to develop three phases of Iran's South Pars gas field. The pipeline, passing through Turkey to reach Hungary and Austria, would carry 31 billion cubic meters a year. "Turkey has already lost the chance of marketing Iranian gas to the European countries," he said.

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