A US official stepped up pressure on Kazakhstan on Wednesday to commit to a controversial pipeline to Turkey, in an ongoing tussle for influence in the Central Asian region.
"The time to move is now," warned John Wolf, US advisor on Caspian issues during an international oil and gas conference in Kazakhstan's commercial capital, Almaty.
The future of the link from Azerbaijan to Turkey is expected to depend on oil commitments from Kazakhstan, as many experts doubt whether Baku could provide enough crude to make the venture commercially viable.
The Baku-Ceyhan project, which would cost two to four billion dollars and come on line in 2004, has also been criticised for its high cost.
Wolf insisted to oilmen at the conference that the venture was "the cheapest, most efficient and most reliable" pipeline option.
He also suggested the project could go ahead without oil from Kazakhstan, but added that it would be in the Central Asian country's interests to agree to the link.
"An Aktau-Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project would strengthen regional cooperation and stability ... mitigate regional conflicts and help Kazakhstan secure direct access to world markets," Wolf said.
If the Baku-Ceyhan project proceeds it could boost Washington's influence in the resource-rich region as it would lessen the dependence of former Soviet countries on Iran to the south and Russia to the north.
But many investors believe an alternative route through Iran is more commercially viable.
"We are convinced that investors should base their decision exclusively on economic and commercial considerations," said Francois Huwart, French trade secretary, who spoke after Wolf. – (AFP)
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)