Bulgaria, Greece talk energy as oil pipeline prospects fade

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Energy diversification topped the agenda of a meeting between the Bulgarian and Greek presidents here Wednesday as plans for a joint oil pipeline with Russia look increasingly likely to run aground.

"We discussed cooperation in the energy sphere, a sector that is of strategic importance to Greece," Greece's head of state Karolos Papoulias said after talks with his Bulgarian counterpart, Georgy Parvanov.

"We find it crucial to boost work on the interconnector gas link between Dimitrovgrad (in Bulgaria) and Komotini (in Greece) and the construction of terminals for liquefied natural gas in Greece that can also feed the whole region," Parvanov said.

The two men have met regularly for bilateral talks for years.

But Wednesday was the first time that a planned 280-kilometre (174-mile) pipeline between the Bulgarian port of Burgas and Alexandroupolis in Greece was not explicitly mentioned.

The Russian-backed project is effectively on ice after the Bulgarian environment ministry last week refused to give its approval until the plans were reworked.

The proposed pipeline would transport Russian oil to Europe bypassing the busy Bosphorus strait.

But despite heavy pressure from both Moscow and Athens to proceed with it, Bulgaria has repeatedly expressed reservations about the project because it would pass through protected nature reserves near Burgas.

Just two days ago, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited Sofia. But he remained surprisingly tight-lipped about the project, even after Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline "is dangerous for Bulgarian tourism and I thank Mr Putin for his understanding of our view."

Asked in a newspaper interview earlier this week whether Bulgaria was definitively abandoning the deal, Borisov's curt reply was "Yes."

Borisov was also set to meet Papoulias on Wednesday but their talks would closed to the press.

© 2010 AFP

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