In a surprise move, Turkey and Azerbaijan have postponed signing a package agreement on gas issues that had been touted as a strategic breakthrough on gas shipments to Europe.
Turkish Prime Minister Rejep Tayyip Erdogan announced on May 17 that the two sides had decided to postpone the signing ceremony until June 7 in Istanbul. “On June 7-8, [Azerbaijani President] Ilham Aliyev will visit Istanbul upon my invitation and I think we will sign [the] gas agreement there,” Erdogan said.
Aliyev put the delay down to unspecified technical reasons. “All issues concerning the package gas agreement are solved and only small technical issues remained to be agreed,” state-run AzTV channel reported Aliyev as saying on May 17.
The tip-off came in a May 17 statement to Turkish media by Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz prior to departure from Tehran for Baku. Yildiz, who, along with SOCAR (State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic) President Rovnag Abdullayev, had earlier affirmed that the deal would be closed in Baku, stated that Turkey now plans to hold a gas summit in Istanbul on June 7-8 with the participation of various European officials “for [a] broader discussion of Azerbaijani gas export to [the] European market,” the Turkish daily Zaman reported.
A senior SOCAR executive who asked not to be named confirmed to EurasiaNet.org that the gas agreement is ready to be signed. “All issues were agreed during the final BOTAS [Turkey’s state-run Petroleum Pipeline Corporation] – SOCAR expert consultations in Baku on May 11-15,” the executive said. [For details, see the EurasiaNet.org archive.] At the last moment, Ankara decided to hold the gas summit in Istanbul in June and asked Baku to postpone the ceremony until then, he added.
Nonetheless, the change was not anticipated. Ilham Shaban, head of the Baku-based Oil Research Center, put it down to a Turkish desire for publicity. Ankara is already riding high from the recent Turkish-Iranian nuclear energy deal. [For details, see the EurasiaNet.org archive.] “As I know everything was agreed and ready,” Shaban said. “. . .Turkey wants to make headlines from this event and now it should happen in Istanbul . . . “
Shahin Abbasov is a freelance correspondent based in Baku. He is also a board member of the Open Society Institute-Azerbaijan.