Azerbaijan supports Georgia-Turkey railway

Azerbaijan supports Georgia-Turkey railway
By M. Alkhazashvili

The Georgian Messenger
Thursday, June 17, 2004, #111 (0635)

At the recent meeting in Tbilisi of Georgian President Mikheil
Saakashvili and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev, special emphasis
was placed on Azerbaijan’s interest in the planned construction of
a railway connecting Georgia and Turkey. As President Aliev stated,
his country supports this project because it is of a regional nature
and will facilitate cooperation between the countries of the South
Caucasus.

Aliev emphasized Azerbaijan’s support for the project, saying that it
is of great regional importance and will be a major breakthrough in
the South Caucasus in terms of the movement of goods. He also stated
that Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey would be of more importance to
the world community from a transit standpoint. Both presidents agreed:
“This will be a revolution in communications and transport.”

Aliev added that in order to speed up construction of the railway
connecting Georgia and Turkey, it is necessary to create an
international consortium that will make a significant contribution
to the implementation of the project. But it seems less a matter of
speeding up construction than getting the project off the ground.

The cost of the project will inevitably be the main stumbling
block. The building of the railway will require approximately
USD 700-800 million and it is unclear where the money will be
found. According to Saakashvili, Turkey is willing to allot funds
towards the project. “Both the governments of Georgia and Turkey are
trying to find the necessary funds,” he said.

The issue of constructing a Georgia-Turkey railway came up during
President Saakashvili’s visit to Turkey at the end of May. Turkish
President Ahmet Necdet Sezer stated that an agreement had been reached
regarding the construction of the Batumi-Rize Railway. Discussion of
this issue was made possible by the Adjaran Rose Revolution in early
May and the reestablishment of the central government’s authority
in the region. There is simultaneously discussion on constructing a
line between Kars and Akhalkalaki, though this idea is still waiting
for further elaboration.

The announcement regarding the Georgia-Turkey railway was greeted with
concern in Armenia. Yerevan worries that this is yet another regional
project that will cut Armenia off from the rest of the region. There
is a railway connecting Turkey and the South Caucasus between Kars,
Turkey and Gyumri, Armenia, though it has been out of operation due
in large part to the Karabakh conflict.

Taking Armenia’s interests into consideration, Georgia expresses
its willingness to restore the Transcaucasian Railway connecting
Armenia with its number one strategic partner Russia via Abkhazia. But
obviously, this will require significant progress in the resolution
of the conflict in that region.

During their meeting, the presidents also discussed the rail tariff
on the Georgia-Azerbaijan railway, noting the need to decrease the
tariff in order to increase the competitiveness of the route and that
an agreement to this end had already been reached.

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