22 July 2009

* Foreign Pipeline Plan Matters

-- Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Turkey signed an agreement last Monday in the Turkish capital Ankara that cleared a key hurdle blocking the construction of the Nabucco natural gas pipeline, designed to stretch 2,000 miles from the Caspian Sea through Turkey to Austria.

-- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced at the Ankara ceremony that Baghdad would supply the proposed Nabucco line with 15 billion cubic meters of gas a year by 2015. That would fill half the line's capacity and start to address the project's greatest obstacle: not enough committed gas so far to make it viable.

The goal in building Nabucco is to diversify Europe's natural gas supplies by using Middle Eastern and Central Asian gas reserves that would not pass through Russia or be controlled by its Russian energy giant Gazprom. Until al-Maliki's offer, Azerbaijan was the only country considered to be a serious potential supplier to Nabucco.

Other countries with natural gas supplies -- Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Iran -- are not viable possibilities. Using Iranian gas is impossible because of Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons; significant political and technological roadblocks prevent getting gas from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan into a Nabucco pipeline.

This puts Iraq in the right place at the right time.

Many challenges remain before construction on the pipeline can begin. The list is long:

Nabucco still has no formally committed suppliers; al-Maliki's offer is not a firm promise. Iraq needs energy laws. And while Baghdad wants to expand its gas production, it needs foreign help. A first round of deals on participation earlier this month went poorly; there will be a second round later this year.

But al-Maliki's offer to supply half of Nabucco's gas shows that Baghdad understands it must convince governments and companies that it is serious about its energy future.

The U.S. administration can do something important to support the Nabucco project by working to make concrete al-Maliki's offer of gas for the pipeline. Just as American backing of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (which critics said would never be built but today brings oil from the Caspian through Turkey to world markets) was crucial to its creation, Washington can play a decisive role in making Nabucco a reality.

This pipeline would have at least three benefits for the U.S. beyond increasing global gas supplies:

-- America's European allies and friends would diversify their gas supplies and not be so dependent on Russia.

-- The pipeline would be a positive development in the relationship between Europe and Turkey.

-- By participating, Iraq would take another vital step toward economic success and stability. Plus, Nabucco executives say significant amounts of gas could be available for the pipeline from Kurdish areas in northern Iraq, a possible basis for further Turkish-Kurdish reconciliation.

Getting Nabucco built and more Caspian gas flowing to world markets as part of a coherent Western energy strategy based on an East-West energy corridor has, thanks to the signing in Ankara and the far-sighted offer from Baghdad, become an opportunity for America.

President Barack Obama appointed Ambassador Richard Morningstar as special envoy for Eurasian energy in April. Morningstar, along with Sen. Richard Lugar, attended the Ankara signing. The ambassador's marching orders are now clear.

Dallas Morning News)
By Simon Henderson and Marc Grossman
Simon Henderson is Baker Fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Marc Grossman is a vice chair of The Cohen Group and a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey.

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.