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Turkey-Caspian Oil Pipeline Backed

March 2, 1998

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) _ Oil-producing countries of the Caspian Sea declared their support Monday for a pipeline through Georgia and Turkey as one of several routes to carry their oil to Western markets.

The joint declaration by Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakstan, Turkey and Georgia came at the conclusion of a two-day meeting here of their foreign ministers at the urging of the Turkish government, which saw it as a first positive step. But the producers kept their options open, not ruling out other routes.

Turkey has long campaigned for a pipeline running from Azerbaijan’s capital on the Caspian, Baku, through Georgia to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

``I’m sure this project will be implemented, but it would be wrong to assume it is a done deal at this stage,″ said Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem.

The declaration was still a partial victory for Turkey which was worried that the Baku-Ceyhan route would be ruled out. Its chances looked bleak just a year ago.

Russia has been the strongest competitor, vying for pipelines to go through its territory as well. The first oil from Azerbaijan started flowing through a limited capacity Russian pipeline last fall.

Turkey and Russia have recently softened their rhetoric against each other on the pipelines, saying they can both benefit from the riches of the Caspian reserves, estimated to be second only to the Middle East’s.

Oil from the Russian pipeline, terminating at the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, is shipped by tankers through the narrow Turkish straits. Turkey has voiced strong concern about the environmental dangers posed by increasing tanker traffic.

The declaration acknowledged ``the need to ensure effectively the safety of navigation″ through the straits.

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