Russia is free to supply gas to the Nabucco pipeline and countries participating in the project must accept it as a partner, the US special energy envoy said.

Richard Morningstar reiterated Washington’s opposition to the possible use of Iranian gas in the Nabucco pipeline, after Turkey said Iranian gas could be used in the project.

Transit agreements for the US-backed Nabucco pipeline are set to be signed in Ankara today by Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria. Germany is also a partner in the project.

The EU has supported the project as a way of reducing its reliance on Russian gas, with possible suppliers for the 7.9 billion euro ($11 billion) project to include Iraq, Egypt, Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkmenistan.

“My understanding of the agreement is that 50% of the gas that will go into Nabucco is open for competition among any suppliers and Russia is certainly free to participate in that way to supply part of that 50%,” Morningstar told a panel interview.

Countries participating in the project should decide whether to accept Russia as a new partner to Nabucco, he said. Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told Reuters late on Saturday that Russia can join Nabucco if it sees it as profitable.

The Nabucco project has been unable to find sufficient throughput for the 31 billion cubic metre pipeline, which is competing with the rival Russian-backed South Stream project to feed growing European gas consumption.

Morningstar reiterated US opposition to using Iranian gas a week after Turkish authorities mentioned the country as a possible supplier.

“With respect to Iran, our position is very clear. We do not think that Iran should participate at this point,” he said.

Iran has the world’s second largest gas reserves, almost 16% of the world’s total, but has no major net exports, partly because US and UN sanctions have deterred investments by Western companies.

“The US has tried to engage Iran in the discussions as to our relationship and on all issues including the nuclear issue, but that offer of engagament has not been reciprocated at this point,” Reuters reported Morningstar saying.

(Upstream Online)