ASHGABAT, Sept 26 (Reuters) Turkmen leader Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said in the United States that his country's talks with Russia on energy were tense and hinted he was ready to discuss new gas export options, state media reported.
Washington is wooing Turkmenistan in hopes of easing its dependence on Russia, which buys most of Turkmen natural gas at below market prices, and opening new export routes giving Western markets direct access to its energy resources.
Berdymukhamedov is in the United States on his first visit since coming to power at the end of last year.
Turkmenistan's state media on Wednesday quoted him as telling U.S. business executives that export pricing talks with Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, as well as negotiations over a new Russia-backed Caspian Gas Pipeline, were not going as planned.
''We highly regard our relations with Russia and will do everything to develop them in all spheres. Energy is a separate issue,'' he said.
''I would not want to hide that negotiations on gas prices in the new project as well as in our existing contracts are tense.'' Competition between the West and Russia for control over Turkmen gas has intensified since the December death of its eccentric leader Saparmurat Niyazov, who showed little interest in energy diplomacy during his 21-year rule.
Under Niyazov, Turkmenistan threatened to cut off supplies to Russia altogether if it did not pay more for its gas.
Under the current deal, valid until the end of 2009 although theoretically subject to revision this year, Gazprom pays 0 per 1,000 cubic metres.
On Wednesday a senior Kiev government official said Ukraine had an understanding with Turkmenistan, its primary gas supplier, to keep prices unchanged at that level in 2008.
Gazprom charges Western Europe more than 0 per 1,000 cm of gas.
European Union countries, keen to diversify sources of gas, are ready to pay a market price for Turkmen gas if a southern corridor bypassing Russia is opened via the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Berdymukhamedov, who met U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday, said he would pursue a pragmatic approach by diversifying exports in all directions: via the U.S.-supported Trans-Caspian project, Russia, as well China and Pakistan.
Some analysts have questioned Turkmenistan's ability to go ahead with so many projects at the same time. The desert nation has announced the discovery of several new big gas fields, but has not disclosed an independent audit of its gas reserves.
But Berdymukhamedov, who was due to make a speech at the U.N. General Assembly later on Wednesday, said his nation had enough gas for everyone.
''I am aware of concerns about these projects,'' he told U.S.
executives in the remarks published in domestic media.
''The main thing is whether we have enough resources to fulfil all obligations. My response is: we do have enough and, on top of that, we guarantee their fulfilment.'' UKRAINE REACHES UNDERSTANDING In Kiev, Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told a cabinet meeting Ukraine had reached an understanding with Turkmenistan.
''We believe we will soon clinch an agreement on good terms for gas supplies for next year. There is an understanding with Turkmenistan at a price of 0 (per 1,000 cm) -- that price is acceptable,'' Azarov said.
Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Klyuyev said agreement had been reached on supplying 34 billion cubic metres at that price.
And Economy Minister Anatoly Kinakh said an accord would be signed with Gazprom and the Rosukrenergo firm which serves as an intermediary supplying gas to Ukraine.
Ukraine consumes about 75 billion cubic metres of gas annually -- three quarters from foreign sources. Ukraine gets gas from different sources at an average price of 0.
REUTERS DKS HS1800