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U.S. Companies Eye Trans-Afghan Pipeline

American companies might join a long-delayed trans-Afghan natural gas pipeline project expected to be launched in 2006, the U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan said Tuesday.

"We are seriously looking at the project, and it is quite possible that American companies will join it," U.S. Ambassador Tracey Anne Jacobson said, speaking in Russian, after a meeting with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

The Turkmen government said Monday that a feasibility study for the project for a pipeline from the gas-rich Central Asian nation through Afghanistan and Pakistan was complete, and that construction would begin in 2006.

U.S. company Unocal Corp., based in El Segundo, California, was considering participation in the project in the 1990s, but plans were abandoned when the United States fired cruise missiles into Afghanistan in 1998 in pursuit of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, blamed for two U.S. embassy bombings that year in East Africa.

Since the U.S.-led offensive that ousted the Taliban from power, the project has been revived and drawn strong U.S. support. The pipeline would allow formerly Soviet Central Asian nations to exports rich energy resources without relying on Russian routes.

The project's main sponsor is the Asian Development Bank.

The 1,680-kilometer (1,044-mile) pipeline is to run through Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan, the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Multan and on to the Indian border town of Fazilka.

The US$3.5 billion (euro2.7 billion) pipeline would tap into natural gas wells at Turkmenistan's huge Dauletabad-Donmez field, which holds more than 2.83 trillion cubic meters (100 trillion cubic feet) in gas reserves.

(January 18th, 2005)

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