Kevin G. Hall, is the national economics correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. Previously he served as Latin America correspondent. During his career he has reported from Mexico City, Saudi Arabia, Miami, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., for the Journal of Commerce and United Press International. He speaks Spanish and Portuguese.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington. Kevin Hall of McClatchy Newspapers reports that on April 20 the big Italian oil company Eni put off its deal with Gazprom, the big Russian oil company, connected to its president, Vladimir Putin, put off a deal that would have given Gazprom a big stake in Libyan oil. That's been an objective of US foreign policy for at least three years. Kevin went through WikiLeaks documents and found the following cable. At the time, Silvio Berlusconi was about to become Italy's prime minister, and the embassy urged headquarters to twist his arm, writes Kevin. Then he quotes the cable. Post, meaning the embassy, would like to push the new Berlusconi government to force Eni to act less as a stalking horse for Gazprom interests. The confidential cable said, quoting, Eni, which is 30 percent owned by the government of Italy, seems to be working in support of Gazprom's efforts to dominate Europe's energy supply and against US-supported US efforts to diversify energy supply. Now joining us in the studio to talk about the new scramble for oil and controlling Europe's energy supplies is Kevin Hall. Thanks for joining us.
KEVIN HALL, NAT'L ECONOMICS CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: Thanks for having me.
JAY: So elaborate a bit. This context [incompr.] certainly are factors that go into the Libyan conflict that we're following now.
HALL: Well, it underscores the kind of global hunt/scramble for oil. The famous book The Prize by Daniel Yergin, the oil historian, kind of laid that out. And this is kind of the latest extension of that. The Libyan situation ties to development of oil in the Caspian region and places I can't even pronounce, coupled with Libya, coupled with Europe and Russia. What happened specifically [snip] in Libya, rather, is Gazprom was going to partner in Libya with Eni, which is the largest player. The Italians are the largest player in Libya, which had been a former Italian colony.
JAY: And were getting along quite well with Gaddafi.
HALL: And were getting along quite well with Gaddafi. And that story—we know how that one goes. The reverse of that is that Eni in exchange was going to get access to a project that the Russians were trying to do in the Caspian region called South Stream. South Stream competed with a project that the US has been pushing for the better part of a decade called the Nabucco project. It was going to take natural gas from the eastern border of Turkey, bypass Russia, and provide supplies to Europe through that route, I think through Bulgaria, Romania, basically bypassing Russia. And what all these documents show, there was about—.
JAY: So these are pipeline wars.
HALL: Pipelines, yeah. And, well, all these documents show—and there's about 1,800 documents that mentioned Gazprom—is that the Cold War is alive and well in terms of trying to contain Russia's energy power. Russia is the largest producer of energy—not the largest exporter, but may have more oil and natural gas produced in Russia than anywhere in the world. Most of that goes to Europe. And so the scramble for this development in the Caspian region, in Azerbaijan and places like that, is tied to whether that stuff goes through Russia or around Russia, and the US has worked real hard to make sure it goes around Russia, so that the Europeans aren't dependent on one source. We've seen how the Russians have used oil and natural gas against the Ukraine, against Georgia, against Belarus. So they've certainly shown their willingness to use oil as a weapon in their own strategic interest, you know, looking at it from their point of view. And the Libya example was just one [crosstalk] small example [crosstalk]
JAY: Of course, US policies always seem—its dominance in the Middle East and oil also is a very big strategic piece of its strategic puzzle, not just this question of oil supplies for the United States. But let's jump back to the Libya context, because there's another piece of background which you write about in your article, which is Eni, the Italian company, was also finding a way to invest in Iranian oil, which was also putting it at odds with US foreign policy.
HALL: Right. Eni have been in Iran long before the current Islamic government, back in the time of the Shah, and lost a lot of money when the change came. Remember that whole unsavory incident in the '70s with the embassy and everything? In that, what Eni was trying to do at around 2006, 2007 time frame was take Iranian oil out, produced jointly with Iran, and they were going to—they found a kind of way to suspend reality: as the US was trying to put pressure on Iran because of its nukes program, they were trying to sell this on the open market. And then they would—it wouldn't be counted as a—it'd be valued in present-day dollars, but it'd be treated as the debt that Iran owes Italy. So it kind of means suspending all time and space and, you know, not valued in former currency but current rates.
JAY: In order to find ways around possible sanctions.
HALL: Right, and it did not sit well with the US government.
JAY: So you've got the Italian oil companies already at odds with the US over Iran. The Italian oil company is going to, through its deals with Gazprom, allow the Russians to take a big stake in Libyan oil. And then you have the French. As we head towards the Libyan war, the French Total have a small piece of the Libyan oil game, but I suppose they would like a bigger piece of it. And then you wind up having a French-American push to overthrow Gaddafi and essentially shove Gazprom out. I mean, I guess we're not saying one and one necessarily equals two, but it sure—it makes one think about it.
HALL: Yeah, it's not necessarily causation, but there's—you might suggest there's correlation. And clearly this shows the degree to which oil is kind of the back story to so much that happens. As a matter of fact, we went through 251,000 documents—or we have 250,000 documents that we've been pouring through. Of those, a full 10 percent of them, a full 10 percent of those documents, reference in some way, shape, or form oil. And I think that tells you how much part of, you know, the global security question, stability, prosperity—you know, take your choice, oil is fundamental.
JAY: And fundamental to most countries' foreign policies,—
JAY: —including this one.
HALL: Front and center.
JAY: Well, we'll do more. As you keep going through WikiLeaks, we'll do more, 'cause this oil story continues into Latin America and other places.
HALL: Yeah, [crosstalk] lot more.
JAY: And we'll do more of this. But those who had said it's not all about oil, they ain't reading WikiLeaks.
HALL: It is all about oil.
JAY: Thanks for joining us. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
End of Transcript
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