Astana, Baku Set Up Oil Shipping Links

APAzeri President Ilham Aliyev, left, and Bodman, second left, with other leaders at an energy summit Friday in Baku.
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan agreed Friday to set up an oil transport system across the Caspian Sea that will help get Central Asia's massive energy reserves to Western markets and circumvent Russian territory.

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, meanwhile, told an energy summit in Azerbaijan that he was confident that the incoming administration would maintain interest in Central Asia and the Caspian and continue pushing to diversify export routes for the region's oil and gas -- still dominated by Russia.

"It is my firm belief that this effort and this region of the world will also be a priority for the next administration," Bodman said at the meeting, which drew presidents or other senior officials from nations including Turkey, Georgia, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria and Hungary.

Most participants signed a declaration that stressed the importance of diversifying export routes and expressed support for existing and planned Western-backed pipelines bypassing Russia.

Resource-rich Caspian nations Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan did not sign, presumably wary of damaging closer ties and energy export arrangements with Russia.

The network will rely on a fleet of tankers and barges to bring Kazakh oil to Azerbaijan, the starting point for a 1,770-kilometer pipeline that traverses the South Caucasus and ends at the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

Kazakh state energy company KazMunaiGaz said the network would be able to ship 500,000 barrels of oil a day at first, eventually growing to 1.2 million barrels per day. It did not say where the ships would come from or who would build or operate them; most tankers plying the Caspian are outdated.

Kazakhstan relies almost exclusively on Russian routes for oil exports, and Moscow has been reluctant to expand its pipelines.