U.S.-Azerbaijan Ties Stronger; Aided by Opening of Caspian Sea Oil Reserves

Article excerpt

Byline: S. Rob Sobhani, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Today marks the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan crude-oil pipeline linking the energy-rich Caspian Sea basin to the Mediterranean. This historic event is being celebrated in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, with the presidents of Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan in attendance. The presence of U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman (who will be carrying a personal message from President Bush) at the event signals the enormous geopolitical significance to the United States of this 1,087-mile pipeline.

The Caspian Sea basin contains approximately 80 billion barrels of oil, nearly 8 percent of the world's remaining reserves. To put this into perspective, the United States has only 29 billion barrels of remaining oil reserves. Since the discovery of sizable hydrocarbon reserves in the land-locked Caspian Sea, a fundamental premise of U.S. energy policy has been the uninterrupted transportation of Caspian Sea oil to international markets in order to diversify world energy supplies. The new pipeline is the linchpin of this policy because it carries crude oil directly from Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean via Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. This pipeline is operated by BP and has the capacity to deliver more than 1 million barrels per day of crude oil to international markets, including ultimately ports on the U.S. East Coast. The pipeline promises to bring prosperity to the region. The gross domestic product of Azerbaijan alone is expected to grow by 20 percent per annum, transforming this nation into the Kuwait of the Caspian Sea.

Sadly, the man responsible for making former Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham's "pipe dream" a reality will not be present. Former Azerbaijan President Heydar Aliyev used his formidable leadership capability, determination and courage to bring the pipeline into existence. In recognition, the Ceyhan oil-loading terminal will be named after him. The obstacles Mr. Aliyev faced were tremendous. When the U.S. government determined that it did not want any pipelines from the Caspian Sea to run through the territory of Iran, then-President Aliyev showed enormous courage and stood up to the clerical regime in Tehran, despite the latter's vociferous objections.

Azerbaijan's neighbor to the north also objected to this U.S. policy of multiple pipelines because Moscow wanted to hold oil-rich countries like Azerbaijan "by the pipeline" by insisting on a Russia-only route. But Mr. Aliyev did not buckle under Moscow's pressure. He forged ahead because he realized very early that United States-Azerbaijan interests were mutually reinforcing, and nowhere did it overlap more than the uninterrupted exploration, development and transportation of Caspian Sea oil and natural gas to international markets. …