Turkmenistan's Gas Cuts Called 'Immoral' by Iran

TEHRAN, Iran -- An Iranian official said Turkmenistan was "immoral" for halting gas exports to Iran in the depths of an unusually cold winter in its bid to change the terms of a supply contract, Iranian state radio reported Tuesday.

Turkmenistan halted daily deliveries of up to 23 million cubic meters to Iran in December, citing technical issues, and has since said Tehran's failure to meet some payments was delaying pipeline repairs.

Iran, which has the world's second-largest gas reserves but still imports some gas, insists it is up to date with payments. Iranian officials say Ashgabat wants to charge more for its gas.

Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Akbar Torkan said Ashgabat wanted to change the terms of an existing gas contract.

"The contract is transparent. The Turkmens want to cancel it and put forward new claims," Torkan told state radio. "Cutting off the flow of gas in the coldest days of the year is immoral."

The supply cut has come at a particularly sensitive time because Iran is suffering some of the coldest winter temperatures for decades, pushing up demand for heating.

State media previously said Iran had a 25-year contract running to 2024 but had signed another agreement for additional supplies since that original 25-year deal was signed.

An Iranian television report and a senior member of the parliament have said Turkmenistan wants to double the price of gas it supplies to Iran to $140 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Iranian Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari said price talks could only start if Turkmenistan resumed gas supplies and has warned that Iran would stop buying Turkmen gas if supplies did not restart.

Iran gets about 5 percent of its needs from Turkmenistan, and the supply disruption has caused shortages in some northern regions. The disruption has also prompted Iran to cut its own gas exports to Turkey.

In Moscow, Gazprom said Monday that it had further raised gas supplies to Turkey to help the country avoid an energy crisis that has had a knock-on effect on Greece. Gazprom said it had received a request from Turkey for more supplies, so it had increased deliveries to 40 million cubic meters per day via the Blue Stream pipeline from the previous 38 mcm per day and from the regular 30 mcm per day before Dec. 25.

"As a result, some 90 mcm of gas was supplied to Turkey in addition to the contracted volumes from Dec. 25 to Jan. 13," Gazprom said in a statement.

The Blue Stream pipeline goes from Russia to Turkey under the Black Sea. Gazprom also supplies Turkey via Bulgarian territory. It did not say how much gas was flowing via this route. Gazprom, the biggest buyer of Turkmen gas, agreed last year to raise payment for the deliveries by 30 percent in the first half of 2008 to $130 per 1,000 cubic meters and to $150 in the second half of 2008.