Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey, used his appearance in Abu Dhabi yesterday at the World Future Energy Summit to promote the ambitious project, which could supply gas to Europe through a Turkish hook-up with the proposed Nabucco pipeline. Mr Erdogan said the Qatar-Turkey pipeline project was "important" for his country, and "will provide remarkable opportunities for Gulf countries".
He also described last year's signing of an inter-governmental agreement on the Nabucco pipeline as the year's "most significant development" for Turkey's energy strategy. The transit agreement between five EU states and Turkey cleared the way for a final investment decision on the EU-backed project to reduce European dependence on Russian gas. Several Central Asian and Middle East gas producers have recently expressed greater interest in supplying gas to Nabucco, although the project's backers have yet to conclude any firm agreements.
Turkey has long sought to establish itself as a hub for energy flowing from Asia and the Middle East to Europe. The idea has gained traction with the EU in the past two years, as European concerns over energy security have intensified due to recurring spats that have threatened to disrupt westward flows of Russian oil and gas. In January last year, Russia cut off 20 per cent of Europe's gas supply for two weeks over a dispute with the transit state of Ukraine. This month, the failure of talks between Russia and Belarus have threatened oil supplies to several EU countries.
Qatar proposed an overland gas link to Turkey through Saudi Arabia last August during talks in Turkey between the Qatari ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, and Mr Erdogan. The proposal was enthusiastically received by the Turkish leaders. The biggest obstacle to the project is likely to be winning support from Saudi Arabia, which has a track record of obstructing regional pipeline developments and for decades has had a tense political relationship with Qatar. Ankara's recent history of good relations with Israel and Iran are also unlikely to have sat well with Riyadh.
Mr Erdogan plans to visit Saudi Arabia this Saturday, where he is scheduled to meet King Abdullah weeks after Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, travelled to Riyadh to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr Davutoglu's call for a stern stance against Israel could open the door for negotiations. Qatar's deputy prime minister and energy minister, Abdullah al Attiya, said last week the emirate was on track to complete a major expansion of its natural gas liquids production capacity by the end of this year.
By that time, Qatar, which is already the world's leading exporter of liquefied natural gas, expects to be able to export 77 million tonnes a year of the fuel, up from about 30 million tonnes in 2008. Qatar has the world's third-biggest gas reserves and shares the world's biggest gasfield with Iran, but has placed a moratorium on plans to increase its gas production from that reservoir until 2014.
Construction of the first phase of Nabucco is expected to start next year, with initial gas shipments to begin in 2014, the Nabucco consortium says on its website. @Email:email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org