The U.S. does not approve of Georgia having long-term energy-related cooperation with Iran, but it seems it may turn a blind eye on short-term Georgian-Iranian deals for emergency gas supplies during the winter period.
U.S. Ambassador to Georgia John Tefft said in an interview published by the Georgian weekly Kviris Palitra on November 27 that a strategic partnership between Georgia and Iran in energy issues is unacceptable for the United States.
He said that the U.S. position is guided by the UN Security Council resolution on Iran and the latter’s nuclear enrichment program.
The U.S. diplomat explained that Washington met Georgia’s short-term deal with Iran in January 2006 with understanding, because Georgia had to import emergency gas supplies when Russian imports were cut off by explosions on two pipelines in Russia’s North Ossetian Republic.
“I do not know what the U.S. Ambassador said. In respect to our energy relations with Iran, naturally we will have energy cooperation with this country. This year we will apparently buy gas from Iran and we will probably exchange electricity with this country,” Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli told reporters on November 27.
“Moreover, we held talks with the U.S. officials, particularly with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, who made it clear that the United States, regardless of its relations with Iran, can not tell Georgia to freeze in winter and not to buy gas from Iran,” he added.
PM Nogaideli was referring to Bryza’s remarks made at a news conference in Tbilisi on November 17, when he said: “while we are pursuing our policy toward Iran, we certainly don’t want Georgia or Armenia or any other country to be in a situation where it does not have energy for the winter.”
This statement was perceived by many in Georgia as Washington’s approval of Georgia’s energy cooperation with Iran. But in the interview with Kviris Palitra, U.S. Ambassador John Tefft said that Bryza’s statement was misinterpreted.
Although PM Nogaideli said on November 27 that Georgia will “apparently buy” Iranian gas, he did not specify details, including the amount of gas Georgia wants to import from Iran.
He said that Tbilisi is still in talks with Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkey over gas supplies. “We will choose the best option for our companies and consumers,” PM Nogaideli added.
PM Nogaideli is expected to visit Iran by the end of December.
Meanwhile, the Georgian PM, accompanied by Energy Minister Nika Gilauri, is expected to visit Baku later this week to talk with Azeri officials about the possibility of Georgia buying additional gas from the Shah-Deniz field.
Some officials in Tbilisi have indicated that certain details of the negotiations and prospects of gas supplies may emerge only after the Baku talks.
Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers have demanded that the authorities speak publicly about how they plan to provide gas in 2007.
“The president says that we will not by gas for USD 230 from Russia; our friend - the U.S. – tells us not to buy Iranian gas; it is clear that there is not enough gas within the Shah-Deniz project to fully satisfy Georgia’s demands. So we want to know what the government is planning to do. It seems that the negotiations which our government is holding are just a myth,” said MP Zviad Dzidziguri, leader of the Democratic Front parliamentary faction, which unites MPs from the opposition Conservative and Republican parties.