GEORGIAN GAS PIPELINE NOT TO BE PRIVATIZED YET

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TBILISI, February 22 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia and Gazprom have not started negotiations on the privatization of the Georgian gas pipeline yet, Georgian State Minister for Economic Reforms Kakha Bendukidze told journalists.

"We are aware of Gazprom's interest in the Georgian gas pipeline. However, we are not negotiating with the Russian company on this issue," the Georgian minister said.

According to him, Gazprom has not outlined its position on the privatization process yet.

"If Georgia decides to sell the gas pipeline it will be interested in the highest price," Mr. Bendukidze added.

The privatization of the gas pipeline was discussed in Georgia in summer 2003. At that time the US government came out against the deal with Gazprom. US Envoy on Caspian Energy Steven Mann said at a press conference in Tbilisi that this deal would have called into question the efficiency of the Shakh Deniz project (Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum). He reminded the Georgian leadership of its obligations not to make energy deals affecting the efficiency of the above-mentioned project.

The Georgian gas pipeline with the capacity of 16 billion cubic meters is included in the list of strategic objects, which are not meant for privatization. If a decision to sell the pipeline is made, the Georgian parliament will have to amend the law on privatization.

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