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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Urges Kazakhstan To Bypass Russia's Pipes

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — In his first trip to Kazakhstan since becoming U.S. Caspian envoy, Stephen Mann on Monday brought a key Washington goal — to have Kazakh oil exports flow through Turkey instead of Russia or Iran — one step closer to reality.

Mann signed a U.S. commitment to grant Kazakhstan $346,000 to fund a study on where to build the main port to barge Kazakh oil from the northeastern shore of the Caspian Sea to Baku, Azerbaijan, on the western side of the sea's waist.

The study will determine whether the main port for trans-Caspian oil exports should be the existing port of Aktau, which would be expanded, or whether another port should be built from scratch.

A tender for the study is expected to be held in a few weeks and should be completed this year, a U.S. official said.

The administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton had urged Kazakhstan to export its oil across the Caspian to Baku, where it would enter a pipeline that would go through Georgia before ending in Ceyhan, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. This would benefit Turkey and Georgia, two U.S. allies, and would end Azerbaijan's dependence on Russian pipelines.

Kazakhstan's recently discovered Kashagan oilfield, off the Caspian coast, is believed to have the potential to yield up to 2 million barrels per day in 15 years, but another two years of exploratory drilling will be necessary before the structure's potential can be confirmed, oil executives say.

"I'm very pleased we're moving ahead with realizing the Aktau part of Aktau-Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan," Mann said at the signing ceremony.

"This is my first trip to the region in my capacity of Caspian basin energy coordinator, and I have come with one simple but important message from Washington, which is that the Bush administration fully supports the East-West energy corridor," Mann added. "The pipelines have momentum and the pipelines will be built."

Timur Kulibayev, head of the monopoly KazTransOil, said Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, his father-in-law, considers exporting Kazakh oil through the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, as advocated by Washington, a priority. Kulibayev made no reference to recent statements Nazarbayev made to Mann's Russian counterpart, Viktor Kalyuzhny, emphasizing the wisdom of having Kazakh oil exports flow north through Russia.

Kulibayev confirmed published reports that negotiations were underway to commission a study on the feasibility of building a pipeline south along the Caspian's eastern shore, through Turkmenistan to Iran. But he emphasized that no agreement had been reached.

Mann, previously ambassador to Turkmenistan, was appointed last month.