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Turkmen pres. says interested in Putin's gas proposals

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MOSCOW, April 24 (RIA Novosti) - Turkmenistan's new president said Tuesday he was interested in his Russian counterpart's proposals on energy cooperation in the Caspian region.

Vladimir Putin met with Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov for a second time during his first visit to Russia in a bid to secure guarantees on gas deals signed under his predecessor, and to counter attempts by the U.S. and its allies to reroute some of the Central Asian state's gas exports away from Russia.

"We discussed a lot of options yesterday, and you made many interesting proposals," Berdymukhammedov said. "I believe we will work with those proposals."

On Monday, Putin suggested Russia modernize the 1974 Central Asia-Center gas pipeline that runs from Turkmenistan via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to Russia, and build a new leg on the Caspian's eastern coast via Kazakhstan, the ideas reportedly mulled by the late leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, the Kommersant daily reported.

Russia has a gas contract with its former Soviet ally stretching into 2028. And Gazprom has signed a separate deal until 2009 with Turkmenistan, which is to supply 162 billion cubic meters of gas to the Russian monopoly at $100 per cubic meter, two-and-a-half times lower than gas prices for Europe.

Putin's two meetings with Berdymukhammedov, at his country residence Monday and in the Kremlin Tuesday, came following the Russian premier's meeting with the Turkmen leader in February and the foreign minister's visit in early April, which also sought reassurances on the deals.

The death in December of Niyazov, who ruled the country with an iron hand for 21 years, prompted the United States, Europe, and Georgia to step up efforts to persuade Turkmenistan to return to a project to build a pipeline under the Caspian Sea to supply gas to southern Europe via Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.

The ex-Soviet republic, which possesses the world's fifth-largest reserves of natural gas and substantial oil resources, has reassured Moscow of its commitment to existing gas deals, while also signaling interest in diversifying its export routes.

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