By Robert M Cutler
MONTREAL - China's Tianchen Engineering Corp has agreed with Turkey to build an underground natural gas storage facility at Lake Tuz in central Anatolia, south of Ankara. The project will be completed in two stages and be constructed to hold up to 1 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas.
The first 500 million cubic meters (mcm) of storage will be completed by 2015 to enter into service in 2016, with the second 500 mcm to be completed in 2018 for entry into service in 2019. This will nearly double Turkey's natural gas storage capacity to 2.1 bcm, equivalent to 5% of total consumption.
The facility will have an operational life of 10 years and be able to release as much as 40 mcm of gas daily into the Turkish grid. According to Fazil Senel, director of Turkey's state pipeline company BOTAS, as reported by Bloomberg News. The estimated cost is US$640 million, to be financed by a World Bank loan signed in 2006.
Bilateral relations between China and Turkey were reinvigorated in June 2009 when Abdullah Gul become the first Turkish president to travel to China since 1995, spending nearly a week in the country (visiting Beijing, Xian, Shenzhen, and Urumqi) and signing seven cooperation accords in the fields of banking, culture, energy, and finance.
In October 2010, China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited Turkey on the last leg of his European tour (previous stops were Greece, Belgium, Germany, and Italy) to seal what he described as a "strategic partnership". The two countries pledged to continue using their respective currencies for bilateral trade clearing, a method that Turkey already uses with Russia and Iran.
The following month, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu continued the exchange by spending nearly a week in China, signing eight more cooperation agreements in different areas, and undertaking to increase bilateral trade from the $20 billion turnover in 2010 to $50 billion by 2015. From this time, the Turkish press began to characterize Turkish-Chinese relations as being animated by a "new cooperation paradigm".
The Lake Tuz project will represent China's largest investment in Turkey to date. It is likely to be exceeded by projects for high-speed rail construction. Already under way is a 158-kilometer stretch from Inonu to Kosekoy, the second phase of a prospective 533-kilometer Ankara-Istanbul line.
The geophysical engineering of the Ankara-Istanbul project is especially challenging. (For example, one-third of the Inonu-Kosekoy segment will be tunnels.) According to China Daily, China is contributing $720 million in loans to the project. A Chinese industrial representative on the site insists that the labor employed is mostly local and that the overall project will not return one penny of profit.
It is likely that China regards the project as a showcase demonstration aimed at the European market. The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reports that China will make further loans for more high-speed lines, including Edirne-Kars, Ankara-Izmir, Ankara-Trabzon, and others.
BOTAS engineers first conceived the Lake Tuz project in 1987 and conducted the first studies for it in 2006, the year of the first tender. Proposals were deemed insufficient, and the tender was re-opened in 2007, only to be cancelled later for a second time. Turkey had been in talks with Russia's Gazprom at the end of the last decade for construction of the Lake Tuz natural gas storage facility, but those did not pan out.
Then already in early 2010, Turkey announced its intention to decrease its dependence on gas from Russia, which arrives mostly via the Blue Stream pipeline underneath the Black Sea. Later in 2010, Turkey finally offered an open tender for the Lake Tuz project.
Gazprom's interest came at a time when a "Blue Stream Two" natural gas pipeline project under the Black Sea was under semi-serious discussion between the two countries. However, Turkey did not intend to consume any of Blue Stream Two's gas. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Sochi in May 2009 that he wanted to transform Blue Stream Two into what he called "MedStream".
With the cooperation of French companies, the MedStream project would have conducted Russian gas from Samsun on the Black Sea across Anatolia to Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea, then under the Mediterranean to Ashkelon in Israel. From there the gas could have gone to South Asia by tanker via the Suez Canal or else from the Gulf of Aqaba through the Red Sea and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait between Eritrea/Djibouti and Yemen.
The geopolitical map has of course changed since then, but the eventual realization of such a project should not be ruled out. The Turkmenistan-China natural gas pipeline that began operation in 2009, for example, was first sketched on the map (although by Western industrialists who were not involved in its realization) in the early and mid-1990s, in the wake of the Soviet Union's break-up.
In roughly the same timeframe, different UN specialized agencies convoked low-key expert-group meetings that worked up outlines for connecting North Africa up with the Arabian Peninsula, Asia Minor, South Caucasus, and Europe in energy transmission, in a perspective stretching out to 2025 and beyond.
Those plans form the basis for discussions ongoing today at a more specific project-planning level. In spite of obvious obstacles at present, therefore, even a project resembling the MedStream cannot be ruled out in the longer run....
By Pepe Escobar
(Hats off, of course, to Monty Python)
A group of journalists attend a United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) press conference in a nondescript room in Langley, Virginia.
Journalist 1 [approaching the podium]: Excuse me, I wish to register a complaint.
[CIA spokesman/spook does not respond.]
Journalist 1: 'Ello, Miss?
CIA spook: What do you mean "miss"? I'm no Victoria Nuland, buddy.
Journalist 1: I'm sorry, I thought this was the State Department. I wish to make a complaint.
CIA spook: We're closin' for now, gotta move forward with our shadow war in Iran.
Journalist 1: Precisely. I wish to complain about this spy drone of yours that disappeared this week in eastern Iran.
CIA spook: Oh yes, the, uh, the RQ-170 ... And your information is incorrect, that was in eastern Afghanistan. What's, uh ... What's wrong with it?
Journalist 1: I'll tell ya what's wrong with it, buddy. It's dead, that's what's wrong with it.
CIA spook: No, no, it's uh ... it's resting.
Journalist 1: In the freaking Iranian desert? Look, buddy, we all know a dead drone when we see one, and I'm looking at one - in Iran - right now.
CIA spook: No, no, it's not dead, it's ... it's restin'! Remarkable drone, the RQ-170, ain't it? Beautiful radar-evading piece of technology, right? Can't tell you more about it because it's classified.
Journalist 1: "Classified" doesn't cut it. It's stone dead.
CIA spook: Nononono, no, no! It's resting!
Journalist 1: All right then, if it's restin', I'll wake it up! [Shouting at a joystick] 'Ello, Mister Dodo Drone! I've got a lovely fresh IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps] target for you if you just show ...
[CIA spook hits the joystick]
CIA spook: There, it beeped!
Journalist 1: No, it didn't, that was you hitting the remote control!
CIA spook: I never!!
Journalist 1: Yes, you did!
CIA spook: I never, never did anything ...
Journalist 1: [Yelling and hitting the joystick repeatedly] 'Ello!!!!! Dronie Boy! Testing! Testing! Testing! Testing! This is the god damned CIA calling!
[Thumps joystick on the CIA spook's lectern. Throws it up in the air and watches it plummet to the floor.]
Journalist 1: Now that's what I call a dead drone.
CIA spook: No, no ... No, it's stunned!
Journalist 1: STUNNED?!?
CIA spook: Yeah! You stunned it, just as it was wakin' up! RQ-170s stun easily.
Journalist 1: Um ... now look, buddy, I've definitely 'ad enough of this. That drone is definitely deceased, and when you guys issued a press statement a while ago, you assured us all that its total lack of movement was due to it bein' tired because of its prolonged secret mission.
CIA spook: There is no indication, I repeat, no indication, that Iran shot it down.
Journalist 1: But you're missing a drone. It was on a secret mission. It crash-landed in Iran. And Iran says they shot the bloody thing down.
CIA spook: Well, it's ... it's, ah ... it probably thought it was in the Nevada desert.
Journalist 1: NEVADA DESERT?!?!?!? What kind of crap is that? Look, why did it fall flat on its back in Iran, of all places? By now the Revolutionary Guards must be throwing a party to the Russians, the Chinese, the Pakistanis, the North Koreans for God's sake, so everyone can rip your technology apart, for a price ...
CIA spook: The RQ-170 prefers keepin' on its back! Hey, remarkable drone! Lovely tech features, radar evasion, portable ...
Journalist 1: Look, the IRNA news agency took the liberty of examining that drone after it crash-landed, they discovered that, yes, it was nailed to the soil of eastern Iran. [Pause]
CIA spook: Well, o'course we nailed it over there! If we hadn't nailed that drone down, it would have flown away and VOOM! Feeweeweewee!
Journalist 1: "VOOM"?!? Buddy, this drone wouldn't "voom" if you sent the Navy SEALS Team Six to give it an electric shock. It's bleedin' demised!
CIA spook: No no! It's a trick! It's a top-secret counter-insurgency trick to fool the enemy!
Journalist 1: It's not a bloody trick! It's passed on! This drone is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its industrial-military complex maker! It's a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace in a Shi'ite paradise! Its metabolic processes are now history! It's off the twig! It's kicked the bucket, it's shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-DRONE!! [Pause]
CIA spook: Well, we'd better replace it, then. (he takes a quick peek behind the lectern). Sorry sir, I talked to our boss, General David Petraeus and uh, we're right out of secret drones.
Journalist 1: I see. I see, I get the picture.
CIA spook: We got loads of bunker-buster bombs though. [Pause]
Journalist 1: Do they spy?
CIA spook: Nnnnot really.
Journalist 1: WELL THAT'S HARDLY A BLOODY REPLACEMENT, AIN'T THAT RIGHT?!!???!!?
CIA spook: N-no, I guess not. [Acts stiff, looks at his feet]
Journalist 1: Well. [Pause]
CIA spook: [Quietly] D'you ... d'you want to go visit the Pentagon and take a peek at their ... contingency plans?
Journalist 1: [Looks around] Yeah, all right, sure.
(And now for something completely different…NOT! Monty Python's Terry Jones' latest piece on the war drums beating for an attack on Iran: Here ) .....
The United States, on the other hand, is coming under ever greater pressure to do something about the Iranian nuclear program. Its diplomatic initiatives are in disarray, new rounds of sanctions at the United Nations Security Council were rejected by Russia and China, and the American allies in the Middle East are showing increasing signs of impatience.
The military option is increasingly looking like the only way to resolve the crisis while maintaining a measure of control over the situation. A number of top American officials now publicly acknowledge that they are not sure if Israel will not surprise them with an air strike that could bring disastrous consequences. Saudi Arabia, moreover, is now all but publicly threatening to join the nuclear arms race if nothing is done against Iran. 
Though it can be difficult to gain detailed insight into American administrations - the current one included - it is a big and cumbersome bureaucracy that in many aspects functions according to broad policies that are hard to change and to resist, even by top officials.
Thus, whether we believe that former US president George W Bush was behind the National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 (which claimed that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program back in 2003)  or not, it more or less tied his hands.
Similarly, the International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran last month, which showed that estimate wrong, is bound to put pressure on current President Barack Obama to attack, whatever his personal inclinations are.....LOL LOL