The Conrad Hotel
MR. TOIV: Good evening, everybody. We're going to have three briefings for you this evening -- two here and one in D.C. that will be piped in. First, we're going to have Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and John Wolf, who's title is so long I have to read it: Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State for Caspian Basin Energy Diplomacy. And they will be briefing, obviously, on the agreement -- the two documents that the President witnessed signing of today on the pipeline agreement.
Then they will be followed by Sandy Berger, who will brief on everything else that happened today. And then we're going to pipe in for you a briefing from D.C. Chief of Staff John Podesta and OMB Director Jack Lew are going to brief on the budget agreement that was reached late last night, in the early hours of this morning. And they will be hopefully following right after Sandy.
So Secretary Richardson.
SECRETARY RICHARDSON: Thank you very much. This is a major foreign policy victory for President Clinton. He's been intensely engaged in the last week to ensure that these two deals go through. This is my third visit to the region in one year. I was here in Turkey 13 months ago to witness the signing of the Ankara Declaration.
What we are witnessing today in the signing of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan agreement was only a vision back then. We've come a long way. And on the trans-Caspian gas pipeline we've also made significant strides. This is a big day for American diplomacy and for Turkish diplomacy.
Today's signing is the culmination of many months of hard work involving many governments and many Presidents. Today, we congratulated the leaders of these countries for demonstrating that shared economic and political interests, coupled with determination, can overcome traditional rivalries.
This is clearly not the end of the process. While we should celebrate today's oil pipeline agreement and the trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline Declaration, much work remains if we are to achieve our goals. And our ultimate goals extend beyond the completion of these pipelines and, indeed, beyond the energy sector. This is not just another oil and gas deal, and this is not just another pipeline. It is a strategic framework that advances America's national security interests. It is a strategic vision for the future of the Caspian region. And as President Clinton said, these agreements will help fulfill our commitment to the continued prosperity and independence of the Caspian state.
We support these agreements because they will achieve several goals. The development of the Caspian nations' resources will contribute to the nation's economic futures and improve our own nation's energy security, as well as that of Turkey and other allies. It will create and advance commercial opportunities for U.S. companies and other companies around the world.
It will help facilitate the development of their societies into democratic, stable commonwealths, and it will bolster relationships among these states that will support economic and political independence in a region that has been buffeted by too many stresses and strains.
These are tangible benefits which we can all gain. This has been a high priority for President Clinton, and I'm pleased to have been part of this effort. Our government will continue to be actively engaged in this process. Over the next two days, we will assure the Caspian Presidents directly that we will play a supportive role, especially in financing options, as we enter the next phase, which brings us closer to the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.
So what are the next steps in making these pipelines a reality. One more host government agreement with Georgia must be completed, and all the parties have agreed it will be finished by December 15th. Once that occurs, the legal foundation for construction of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan will be complete.
In addition, there's a planning meeting of potential shippers and sponsors in the works for December. Once all that happens, the Main Export Pipeline Company, known as MEPCO, will be formed and will finalize the financing package. This will pave the way for construction planning to begin.
I want to emphasize one point. Today's agreements clear the way to answering the question that has surrounded this project from the outset -- is the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline commercially viable? We continue to believe that it is commercially viable, but the true test of commercial viability lies in the marketplace. Now we have a foundation to build on. In the weeks and months ahead, the countries will meet with interested companies to form a project implementation group that will complete the group that was begun today.
As another indication of the viability of the project, our U.S. government trade and investment finance agencies, Ex-Im Bank and OPIC, stand ready to provide the necessary financing and insurance -- on a commercial basis, of course -- to help bring these projects to fruition.
The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is also the most environmentally sound approach to transporting oil resources from the Caspian -- as anyone who looks over the Bosphorus can easily see that increasing tanker traffic can only add to the threat of environmental damage. In fact, because of our concern about the risk, the Energy Department recently sponsored a successful initiative in the Black Sea that encourages regional cooperation in the area of oil spill planning. We are hoping to replicate this initiative among the Caspian Sea countries.
Finally, let me say a word about the trans-Caspian gas pipeline. It is also a critical component of the East-West border. TCP, the trans-Caspian pipeline, must be a regional pipeline, one that advances the economic interests of all four countries along the right of way. The TCP agreement signed today is yet another important step. It demonstrates political solidarity about the route and lays out the principles for cooperation among the parties.
Finally, these agreements are significant because companies and countries on both sides of the Caspian are working together. It's truly remarkable that Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are united here by a single vision.
We understand that construction on CPC started today. We congratulate Chevron and the other members of the consortium on reaching this milestone.
I want to introduce the principal architect of this agreement, the negotiator who steadfastly in the last intensive weeks is responsible for the agreements today, and I'd like to recognize Ambassador John Wolf for a brief comment and then we'll take your questions.
AMBASSADOR WOLF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I had a chance to talk with many of you already, so I will simply say that what we anticipated yesterday happened today. It is, as the Secretary and the President earlier said, a historic day because it brings together the governments of this region and it is a demonstration of the importance also that the United States places on helping to build the energy security and economic security of the region.
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