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Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
US eyes African oil
Oil production facility in Angola
Some want the US to move away from Arabian oil

The United States has denied persistent reports that it intends to build a military base on the tiny west African island state of Sao Tome - but said it will expand co-operation with the former Portuguese colony.

US interest in the region centres on large offshore oil deposits in the Gulf of Guinea and a desire by Washington to diversify its oil supplies away from the turbulent Middle East region.

West African oil producers
Nigeria
Angola
Gabon
Cameroon
Equatorial Guinea
Sao Tome lies just off the west African coast midway between the big oil producers Nigeria and Angola.

Reports have been circulating in oil business and diplomatic circles for over a year now that the Americans had their eye on strategically-located Sao Tome, a pinprick in the ocean with a population of just 140,000 people.

The previously obscure archipelago was discussed at powerful business seminars, and there was even a long article in the prestigious New Yorker magazine comparing the islands' potential to Saudi Arabia.

Patrol boats

The idea, actively pushed by pro-Israeli lobby groups in Washington, is that because Sao Tome lies at the heart of West Africa's oil producing region, a military base would ensure US interests there and allow the world's biggest oil consumer to loosen some ties with Arab states.

But it seems the lobby groups have run ahead of themselves.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Walter Kansteiner, told the BBC after visiting Sao Tome this week that there was no question of building a military base there.

Mr Kansteiner said the US was looking at providing Sao Tome with patrol boats to improve its maritime and customs controls, and would be expanding co-operation in other areas.

Even if a military base is now discounted, there is no doubt that the US is increasingly interested in the 60 billion barrels of proven oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea.

That figure is less than Saudi Arabia's 250 billion of reserves.

But west African oil is nearer to the United States and causes fewer political problems.

Oil industry sources say they confidently expect important deep water discoveries to boost the potential of big players like Nigeria and potential newcomers like tiny Sao Tome.

See also:

01 Aug 02 | Africa
01 Jul 02 | Business
03 Dec 01 | Business
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