Turkmen President Visits Baku

BAKU, Azerbaijan — The leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan met for the first time in 12 years Monday, boosting Europe's hopes of a new route for Central Asian gas that bypasses Russia.

Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are central to the European Union's plans to reduce its energy reliance on Russia, which supplies one-quarter of Europe's needs. Europe wants to pump Central Asian gas along a pipeline that crosses the Caucasus to its cities, but it needs more supply.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev agreed Monday to develop a transport corridor and to discuss their own Caspian Sea oil field disputes, but they played down the significance.

"We have to put effort into creating international transport corridors that are not competitors to one another," Berdymukhammedov said.

During the winter of 2006, Moscow reduced gas supplies to Europe because of a transit price dispute with Ukraine — through which around 80 percent of its gas travels — worrying EU leaders about their dependence on Russian fuel.

Both leaders said they wanted to improve ties, a natural move, analysts said.

"These talks should be productive for both countries," said Alexei Malashenko, at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

"It's part of the diversification. The era of Russia's monopoly on Turkmenistan's gas is over."