787) Turkey, Azerbaijan Discuss Armenian Participation In Railway Project

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul had consultations on Monday with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku to discuss Armenian participation in the Kars-Javakheti (Ahilkelek)-Tbilisi-Baku railway project.
No statement was made to the press following the 40-minute meeting between Gul and Aliyev, but the Anatolia news agency said the two had discussed recent developments in the railway project, which is planned to run from Turkey to Azerbaijan via Georgia.

The foreign minister also said during the meeting that the transportation ministers of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia should exert efforts to overcome existing problems concerning the railway project, according to the Anatolia.

Georgian officials reacted with caution to the reported Turkish and Azeri readiness to include Armenia in the project, with one official in Ankara saying that there would be no need to construct the railway at all if Armenia is included, since there is already a direct railway between Turkey and Armenia that is not used because of political disputes between Turkey and Armenia

Gul reportedly said Georgia had "serious hesitations" about the project and suggested that Turkey could help eliminate its concerns. "Armenia can also join these projects if it wants," Gul was quoted as saying.

The minister also said private companies in Kazakhstan were also displaying an interest in the railway project.

The Azerbaijani leader reportedly gave a positive response to Ankara's proposal of Armenian participation in the project. He also said efforts should be started to implement the project without loans from the outside.

The Kars-Javakheti (Ahilkelek)-Tbilisi-Baku railway project aims to set up a direct rail link between Turkey and Georgia, and between Turkey and Azerbaijan via Georgia. Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia signed a memorandum of understanding on Dec. 28, 2004 to put the project into force. The parties then established a working group. In September 2005, Turkish, Azerbaijani and Georgian ministers gathered in Istanbul to discuss recent developments concerning the Kars-Javakheti (Ahilkelek)-Tbilisi-Baku railway project to devise concrete steps to actually carry out the project

Turkish Daily News Jun 21, 2006
Copyright 2006, Turkish Daily News

The meeting of transport ministers from Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan, slated for mid-June, was postponed until July at the request of Georgia.

This was due to the decision of the US Congress to prohibit the participation of US companies in the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway project.

The Armenian National Committee of America lobbied Congress in favour of this decision.

US politicians think that ignoring Armenia's interests will damage US-Armenian relations. Congress is in compliance with Yerevan's position, arguing that new project is economically unjustified, because a Kars-Guimri (Armenia)-Tbilisi-Baku railway already exists, but has been out of use since the Karabakh conflict (due to Turkey closing the border). Armenia wants to revive this route while Azerbaijan considers it absolutely unacceptable until the Karabakh conflict is settled in its favour.

The proposed Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway needs 98 km of new track to be laid from Akhalkalaki to Kars; 27 km of which are in Georgian territory. The project also envisages the rehabilitation of the Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi route.

The project will cost approximately USD 350-450 million.

The project should have started this year. President Ilham Alyiev of Azerbaijan made statements concerning the setting-up of an international consortium to build the railway; and Azerbaijan and Turkey have already accepted the financial liabilities for financing the project.

The Georgian State Minister for Reforms Coordination, Kakha Bendukidze, thinks that the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway route could be important for Georgia, but he added that so far he had not seen any reliable economic assessments proving the necessity and profitability of this project. He considers the construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway as a "distant prospect."

However, there are some more optimistic opinions. Irakli Chogovadze, the Minister of Economic Development, said if America refuses to finance the project there are other countries and financial institutions which will be willing to participate. He says negotiations are already underway with Kazakhstan and China.

Chogovadze hopes this railway will eventually connect China with Europe, via Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. The cargo this will attract will make this a very attractive project for investors, and as such the project is more than viable.

Construction will be carried out in two stages, firstly a single track will be built, and once it has developed sufficient income work on the second will begin-provided, of course, that the project goes ahead.

The Messenger, Georgia June 20 2006


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