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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gazprom in Talks to Supply Gas to Nabucco

ANKARA, Turkey -- Gazprom is in negotiations to supply natural gas to a pipeline originally intended to reduce Europe's heavy energy reliance on Moscow, people involved with the proposed link said.

A senior Turkish Energy Ministry official said Gazprom had been in talks in the past few weeks with the Nabucco project's Austria-led consortium.

"The consortium is not cold to this idea. No objections are expected from the United States or Europe to the pipeline transporting Russian gas," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Nabucco had aimed to carry Caspian and Middle Eastern gas to Europe via Turkey and the Balkans. The project has strong backing from the European Union and the United States, anxious to reduce the continent's dependence on Russian gas, and several energy majors have expressed interest in joining it.

But the Turkish official said, "When you think of the gas that Nabucco can carry, Russia could also become part of the project."

The pipeline, which will stretch 3,300 kilometers and cost $6.2 billion to build, will be able to carry 31 billion cubic meters per year at full capacity.

OMV, the Austrian state-controlled oil and gas group that leads the Nabucco consortium, said the project had never excluded the possibility of Gazprom involvement.

"We always said that of course there are capacities available in this pipeline for Gazprom because it will be open access," OMV spokesman Thomas Huemer said in Vienna.

"It's important that the operators can book 50 percent of the capacity for their own use, and this is an issue that is still ongoing with the European Union.

"But otherwise it is open access, so every company that has gas and buys gas can pipe it through the pipeline. Nabucco is not an ideological question, it's an economic one," he said, stressing the rising demand for gas in Europe.

President Vladimir Putin will visit Vienna on May 23 and 24.

Separately, the United States is unhappy about the possibility of Iran becoming involved in Nabucco. Tehran said it signed a major agreement with OMV to help develop its vast gas resources and to build a plant for liquefied natural gas.

Tehran is at loggerheads with the West, especially Washington, over its nuclear program.

"Iran wants to be part of Nabucco in some way and is saying so loudly. But this is also one of the biggest problems ... because America is trying to prevent Iran providing gas to Europe," a source close to the consortium said.

A second Turkish official, commenting on the strains between Washington and Tehran, said, "It seems that Russian gas must enter Nabucco."

The Nabucco project has been criticized for delays, the lack of a convincing timetable for when it will come on stream, and apparent wavering by consortium member Hungary. The consortium's members include companies from the transit countries -- Hungary's MOL, Bulgaria's Bulgargaz, Romania's Transgaz and Turkey's state-owned Botas.