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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgia Links Into Caspian Pipeline

ReutersAliyev, right, presenting Saakashvili with a carpet at the opening of a pipeline link in Georgia on Wednesday.
TBILISI, Georgia -- The presidents of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey on Wednesday ceremonially opened the valves on the Georgian section of a U.S.-backed Caspian pipeline that is seen as key to cutting Western dependence on Mideast oil.

They said the new route would help their countries prosper.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer simultaneously pushed buttons opening valves at a pumping station for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in the Gardaban district outside the capital, Tbilisi.

"What does this pipeline mean for Georgia? Economically, it means investment," Saakashvili said at the ceremony. "But the significance of this pipeline is first of all political. Georgia's significance is growing on the world map and in this region."

"Next year we'll get a gas pipeline, which means economic and energy independence for Georgia," he added.

Known as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, the $3.2 billion project aims to boost the energy-hungry West's access to the Caspian fields, estimated to hold the world's third-largest reserves.

The three leaders opened the first section, transiting Azerbaijan, in May.

"This project would not have been realized had it not been for the close cooperation of all sides," Aliyev said. "The realization of this project will also advance regional stability."

By year's end, the 1,760-kilometer project is to ship up to 1 million barrels a day to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. It will take approximately 10 million barrels of crude to fill the entire pipeline.

"This project was seen as a dream, but it's been realized, and that means that we can talk also of the realization of other global projects," Sezer said.

Most Caspian oil exports currently go through Russian pipelines to the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, where the oil is loaded onto tankers that squeeze through the crowded Bosporus.