By Steve Weinstein
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American Special Forces troops may have begun moving on Afghanistan late this week, but American special interests started jockeying for position in the region years before. Control of the landlocked nation is key to exploiting the nearby oil reserves of the Caspian Seaa fact not lost on Vice President Dick Cheney, in his previous incarnation as CEO of energy giant Halliburton.
The man who would one day help conduct a war in Central Asia told a 1998 crowd at the right-wing Cato Institute about the black gold that lay beneath the waters there and the importance of teasing it from the politically volatile countries. "The good Lord didn't see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratic regimes friendly to the United States," Cheney said. He condemned the U.S. sanctions placed on potentially oil-rich countries like Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, and Libya.
"You've got to go where the oil is," he told another audience that year.
Halliburton has continued to do just that. This spring, the company signed a major contract with the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan to develop a 6000-square-meter marine base to support offshore oil construction in the Caspian Sea, the Voice has learned. The base will be used to assist Halliburton's catamaran crane vessel, the Qurban Abbasov, in upcoming offshore pipe laying and subsea activities, according to a statement the company released May 15.
Halliburton employs over 100,000 workers deployed in over 130 countries. Its interest in the Caspian would not be out of the ordinary.
But as the war on terrorism in Afghanistan continues, some see Cheney's past and present connections as a conflict of interest. Biting his lip, Cheney sold his Halliburton shares after taking office. He accepted a resigning bonus of $1,451,398 and over $13 million in stock, with more in options, which he eventually dispensed to charities of his choosing.
That hasn't satisfied his critics. "It's a scandal, sure, but it's business as usual for Halliburton," says Pratap Chatterjee, a former Caspian research analyst for Project Underground, a nonprofit that monitors the oil and gas industry. "Cheney wasn't paid big bucks for his knowledge of the oil industry or his business skills. It's his political contacts. He knows who to call, on a first name basis."
Neither Cheney nor Halliburton responded to Voice requests for comment.