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Cablegate: Turkmenistan: Too Much Press Ado About Bilateral

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PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLH RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPW RUEHROV RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHAH #1208 3111225
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 071225Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9665
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UNCLAS ASHGABAT 001208

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL EPET UK TX
SUBJECT: TURKMENISTAN: TOO MUCH PRESS ADO ABOUT BILATERAL
HYDROCARBON AGREEMENT WITH UK

REF: ASHGABAT 1033

1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for public Internet.

2. (SBU) "The Times of London" and Dow Jones International
News separately ran stories November 6 stating that, during a
September 22 visit to Turkmenistan, UK Energy Minister
Malcolm Wicks had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU)
with Turkmenistan's Minister of Oil and Gas, Baymurat
Hojamuhamedov, aimed at cementing ties between the two
countries and improving access to Turkmenistan's oil and gas
by UK hydrocarbon companies, including BP and Burren Energy.
The Times article went further, maintaining that the MOU was
directed toward helping to secure British access to one of
the world's largest reserves of natural gas.

OVER THE TOP

3. (SBU) The British Ambassador in Ashgabat, Peter Butcher,
called the reports "sensational" and "overdone." Butcher
confirmed that the two countries had signed a protocol during
Wicks' visit (reftel) focused on improving bilateral energy
cooperation. However, he added, cooperation is in the
earliest stages and the only concrete measure mentioned in
the protocol was a proposal for Turkmenistani hydrocarbon
officials to visit the UK on a study visit that would, among
other things, allow them to become more familiar with the
UK's regulatory environment. Her Majesty's government is
also considering holding an Energy Charter workshop in
Ashgabat, but this will depend upon how the study tour goes.
Butcher denied that the protocol is directed toward improving
UK firms' access to Turkmenistan's gas. He stressed that
there is nothing in the protocol that states support for any
companies, either from the UK or elsewhere. That said, he
did not exclude the possibility of the British government
looking to companies with proven experience in Turkmenistan
or elsewhere in Central Asia -- including Burren, BP and
Shell -- to become more active in Turkmenistan if the
protocol succeeds in its goal.

4. (SBU) COMMENT: While there is a grain of truth in the
story, it appears that this is another case where the press
has embroidered the facts almost beyond recognition. Yet
this demonstrates the zero-sum mentality that governs too
much of the press coverage on Turkmenistan's budding foreign
relationships, particularly those related to oil and gas. As
Russia seeks to maintain its virtual monopoly over
Turkmenistan's gas exports, and as Iran (which characterized
Wicks' visit as a UK initiative to take control of
Turkmenistan's gas) seeks to counteract what it perceives as
growing Western influence in Turkmenistan, such press reports
are certain to continue. END COMMENT
HOAGLAND

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