Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Turkmenistan President Berdimuhamedow, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York today. After the meeting, Robert O. Blake, Jr., Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs gave journalists a readout of the meeting.
Both sides agreed that there are good relations between the two countries, but there are opportunities to do more.
Secretary Clinton described a new process the U.S. is putting in place, to have annual bilateral consultations in alternating capitals every year that cover the full range of bilateral issues, which the Turkmen welcomed. Follow-up meetings are to be arranged, probably at the Assistant Secretary level, to discuss possible agendas and exactly what is to be accomplished in those annual meetings.
The top issue today was Afghanistan, with Secretary Clinton thanking the president for Turkmenistan’s assistance. The Turkmen maintain a policy of what they call positive neutrality; meaning they try to balance the different powers in the region – Iran, Russia, the United States – to keep them approximately balanced.
Turkmenistan provides overflight clearance for many flights going into Afghanistan, as well as refueling for those flights. They have also run some modest programs inside Afghanistan, including building schools and hospitals.
On the energy front, Secretary Clinton said she wants to see Turkmenistan be a leader in terms of energy security and energy supply. U.S. policy encourages multiple pipelines out of the Central Asian region and the Turkmen have an important role to play, with the future Nabucco pipeline that would bring gas from Central Asia and possibly from Iraq into Europe. Ambassador Morningstar was recently in Turkey as part of the announcements about that pipeline, which should start around 2011.
U.S. companies are already doing a lot of business in Turkmenistan, particularly offshore, and are interested in developing some of the onshore hydrocarbon resources there. President Berdimuhamedow said he plans to meet with U.S. oil companies tomorrow. to explore what more they can do in Turkmenistan.
The last big issue on the agenda education. Assistant Secretary Blake said “We’ve always tried to do more in terms of education exchanges and so forth in Turkmenistan and the other Central Asian countries. There have been some recent restrictions in Turkmenistan governing Turkmen students who would like to go study at the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan, in Bishkek. And so the Secretary just expressed our interest in trying to resolve those, in allowing the students not only to go to that university, but also to go to American University in Bulgaria, and of course, to have more Turkmen students come to the United States. And again, there are no restrictions on that, but – the only restrictions just being distance.”
The matter of human rights did not come up, due to lack of time. Assistant Secretary Blake said “Human rights is not as big an issue in Turkmenistan as it is in some of the other Central Asian countries.”