Hungary urges EU to ensure route for Azeri gas to central Europe

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives at an European Union leaders summit in Brussels October 24, 2014. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban urged the European Union to build gas pipeline interconnectors across borders to ensure that natural gas from Azerbaijan reaches markets in central Europe, news agency MTI reported.

Speaking as Azeri President Ilham Aliyev paid a state visit on Tuesday and they signed a strategic partnership agreement, Orban said it was in the strategic interest of Europe as a whole to let Azeri gas reach central Europe.

"Our job in the coming years is to create the conditions for Azeri gas to make the journey from southern Europe to central Europe," national news agency MTI quoted Orban as saying.

Hungary has unnerved some European partners with its support for the South Stream pipeline project, which is designed to carry Russian gas to central Europe, bypassing Ukraine.

The U.S. government is concerned that a drift by Hungary towards the Kremlin over energy could undermine Western attempts to isolate Russian leader Vladimir Putin over his intervention in Ukraine.

Hungary has said it supports the building of Russian and non-Russian gas sources alike to ensure that there are alternative supply routes to the current ageing pipelines.

The central European country gets most of its gas from Russia via Ukraine, which it has seen as a risk to its energy security.

Azeri gas could reach southern Europe by the end of this decade through the proposed Trans Adriatic Gas Pipeline (TAP) and the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP).

These pipelines would carry billions of cubic metres of gas a year from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz II in the Caspian Sea, one of the world's largest gas fields which is being developed by a BP-led consortium.

Orban said the current contracts guarantee only that Azeri gas would reach southern Europe and that the area receiving the gas needs to be expanded.

He said the only way to achieve that was through connecting neighbouring countries' gas pipeline networks, which Orban said would be the first step in creating a common gas market in Europe.

(Reporting by Marton Dunai; editing by Jane Baird)