“Our job is to listen…to play a facilitating role,” said Ambassador Richard L. Morningstar, the U.S. Department of State’s special envoy for Eurasian energy, at a Center for American Progress event last Thursday on the Obama administration’s diplomatic strategy for energy security in Eurasia. Morningstar was joined by Dr. Samuel Charap, Associate Director for CAP’s Russia and Eurasia program. The speakers discussed the region’s abundant natural resources, potential new export markets, and supply concerns, as well as how gas disputes will affect U.S. interests and those of our allies.
“Europe is our partner,” Morningstar said as he affirmed the supporting role the United States is willing to play in the EU’s energy initiatives. The European Union and the United States constitute the largest bilateral trade and investment partnership in the world, and its members include our closest allies on the continent. The United States therefore has a vested interest in Europe’s energy security.
But a partnership with Europe is not the only item on the U. S. energy agenda. The United States seeks to promote the development of clean-energy technologies throughout Europe and Eurasia; make reforms necessary to create stable, reliable, and transparent energy markets; modernize infrastructure; diversify energy supply; boost energy efficiency; and cooperate on new projects.
According to Morningstar, the United States will encourage new energy production and export routes in order to help Caucasian and Central Asian states bolster their autonomy and independence, which in turn will strengthen our long-term partnerships with these countries. Eurasian countries “need to develop their own strategies to be secure and work on a regional basis together,” Morningstar said. “We want to see diversification…because it’s important for any group of countries to become energy secure.”
Engagement is the answer across the region, urged Morningstar, even with challenging partners such as Russia. “Russia is a key energy producer and a critically important player in the region,” Morningstar said. “We must engage with Russia to find common ground, but we also must uphold our principles. Support for European energy security should not be construed as anti-Russian.”
It’s not clear where bilateral energy discussions with Russia will lead, but the United States must depoliticize pipeline issues to be able to move forward and present opportunities for Russia to participate as a partner in energy projects such as the Southern Corridor, which will takes natural gas from the Caspian region into Europe.
The actions of Iran’s current political leadership have made this country unwelcome as a supplier for the Southern Corridor, despite the nation’s geographic proximity and massive gas deposits. Morningstar said it is “the wrong time” to consider such a possibility and he does not “anticipate any change anytime soon” in U.S. policy.