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Post Tajikistan and Pipelines
Created by John Eipper on 09/21/11 2:17 AM

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Tajikistan and Pipelines (Robert Gibbs, USA, 09/21/11 2:17 am)

Heeding JE's call for input on Central Asia--Tajikistan in particular--I can only add to Cameron Sawyer's very broad and accurate picture of the area, except to add that in the late 1990s the Persian spoken among the Tajiks was called old court Persian. And of course Russian. The Islamic traditions--as practiced--were defined at the time as being a "free-thinking Islam." With the rise of Islamic militancy and competition between Sunni and Shi'a sects due to Iran's and militant Sunnis' direct attempts at involvement in Tajikistan, this situation could change in the future.

Also, in regards to the recent oil and pipeline discussion, I am not sure of Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich's recent point regarding an oil company looking for oil and a Jewish oil company owing a cracking/refining plant in California.  Still, I feel that I must correct one of her points regarding the BTC pipeline from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean through Turkey. First, the BTC is a rather profitable asset at present. Yes, the were other less expensive methods for transporting Azeri Oil--both North and South. The Russians were rather adamant that the oil go north through older Soviet pipelines for further transport through the Black Sea. However, the main desire for the Azeri government was to diversify the outlets for its energy and to break the hold Russia (economic and political) had over Azerbaijan. This was a determining factor for the West in investing in the pipeline. Further, the proposed pipeline through Iran was a non-starter from the beginning. Indeed, the only country proposing it was Iran. Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan were at a very low point, and few Azeris trusted Iran to control their energy shipments to the West and or East.

I might add that the proposed TAPI pipeline is more of a pipe dream than a reality. Running a pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India sounds great until one looks at both the geography and engineering requirements of such a project and the instability of Afghanistan and Pakistan plus India (the prime investor) trusting Pakistan to deliver the contracted natural gas. While I have lived long enough to never say never, this is not going to happen. Further, most of Turkmenistan's known reserves of natural gas are committed to China, and hooking with the Shaw Denez I and II of Azerbaijan for shipment of natural gas to Europe via the proposed Nabacco pipeline.

JE comments:  Most of us view pipelines as unexciting, but they are a metaphor for modernity, combining economics, energy demands, geopolitics and globalization.  Not to mention technological and environmental matters.  Robert Gibbs follows the politics of pipelines very closely, and I'm always grateful for his analyses.

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  • Tajikistan and Pipelines (Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich, USA 09/23/11 1:16 AM)
    I had mentioned Israel's (not Jewish, as Robert Gibbs on 21 September incorrectly writes--he must be careful not to confuse Jewish with Israel; this is a tactic used by people who want to silence criticism of Israel, and I do not believe this was Mr. Gibbs's intention) ownership and interest in oil because in a post of September 2, Cameron Sawyer wrote in response to John Heelan: "Really? Israel is competing for control of oil and gas reserves in the Middle East? I was not aware that Israel is much active in the oil and gas business in the Arab Middle East, much less competing with Iraq to such an extent that it would provoke a war. I would be grateful for details on this." John Heelan conceded. I therefore provided information on Israel's interest in oil. Therein lies the relevance.

    Mr. Gibbs further states in response to my post of September 5: "Further, the proposed pipeline through Iran was a non-starter from the beginning. Indeed, the only country proposing it was Iran." I was not aware that Iran was part of the Task Force commissioned by President Bush to prepare an energy policy report. In fact, if Mr. Gibbs refers to page 90 of the report (herein attached again http://www.rice.edu/energy/publications/docs/TaskForceReport_Final.pdf), he will note that none of the some 40 Task Force members are from Iran. There were, of course, three dissenting views: Patrick Clawson, David L. Goldwyn, and Joseph P Kennedy II.

    This is a report that is detailed and interesting. Of note, page 45 of the report: "Finally, US insistence on the longer and costly Baku-Ceyhan pipeline route could jeopardize a more comprehensive approach toward the export of the Caspian Basin's resources and would put at risk a more commercial approach."

    If I have misunderstood the report, I wish Mr. Gibbs would correct me.

    JE comments:  Does a "more comprehensive approach" mean through Iran?

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    • Pipelines (Robert Gibbs, USA 09/27/11 7:55 AM)
      Regarding the oil pipelines of previous postings, I would like to point out to Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich (23 September) that my comments were meant to clarify several points especially in regards to the BTC pipeline and her suggestions regarding the TAPI pipelines. I suppose this requires further explanation.

      First, the Task Force (TF) Soraya referred to was not a US Government task force but a private Task Force out of Rice University, jointly sponsored with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). There is no mention of George H W Bush's support in the report. Second, I was discussing various national interests in Azeri oil pipelines. Third, in the report cited by Soraya, even the reference offered on page 45 (pages 44-45 actually) reflect the CFR's view of post-Soviet Russia and Central Asia's place, which reinserted the former Soviet states back within a Russian orbit. This is what Azerbaijan distinctly wanted to avoid. Indeed, as Russia and Iran were applying pressure, it was the US Government that bothered to ask the Azeris what they wanted. The Clinton administration agreed with the Bush administration that considering the Azeris' desire for the BTC pipeline, they commissioned State and DoD studies regarding both the pipelines and its economic potential (e.g.: would it be profitable and can it supply large enough quantities of oil to sustain the pipeline; in both instances the answer was yes.)

      The decision and US support for the pipeline was in line with the distinct and expressed wishes of the Azeri Government. While there were several disagreements in the two US reports and analysis, these were resolved. The only remaining impediments to the pipeline were in the corruption of both the Georgian and Turkish Governments' attempt to overplay their hands in demanding higher transit fees. Iranian Government inducements were rejected out of hand for reasons stated before and because of Iranian demands for more of the Caspian oil than it was legally entitled to (Law of the Sea or Law of International Lakes--again). This route was never realistically considered by the Azeris.

      Finally. even the Task Force's dissenting views support Azerbaijan's view by stating "The record of Russia and most especially Iran are of long delays and unreasonable demands." (Page 88)

      I will conclude by pointing out that the US Government's involvement was due to the request of the Azeri Government and EU--the various oil companies involved also agreed with the US viewpoint.

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