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Turkmen Report: July 15, 2002

15 July 2002
Turkmenistan Tightens Exit Rules As Part Of Drug Crackdown

12 July 2002

Turkmenistan is introducing new rules for citizens who want to travel to neighboring Iran and Uzbekistan, AFP and RFE/RL reported on 12 July. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov recently ordered that Turkmen nationals traveling to Iran and Uzbekistan must state the purpose of their visit, where they will stay, receive a stamp in their passport and pay a customs charge of $6.

The rules are to be enforced for at least a two-year period. A source in the Turkmen Foreign Ministry is quoted as saying the rules were imposed as a result of an increase in drug smuggling by Turkmen nationals. (AFP, RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Niyazov Allows Top Turkmen Officials Some Rest

12 July 2002

President Niyazov has allowed the top officials of Turkmenistan to go on vacation until 24 July, Interfax reported on 12 July. "State officials and the heads of branches can mix work and vacation. They can go to the Caspian Sea and other places in Turkmenistan," Niyazov said on national television on 11 July.

The president's permission applies to deputy ministers as well. Top government officials were granted permission to go on vacation on 8 July due to the completion of the harvesting campaign and the fulfillment of the grain-harvest plan.

After the vacation, the government is expected to start actively preparing for the annual joint session of the People's Council and the Council of the Elders, which will be held in eastern Turkmenistan on 8-9 August. (Interfax)

Turkmen-Afghan-Pakistan Pipeline Could Extend To India

11 July 2002

Afghanistan's industry and mineral resources minister says a proposed natural-gas pipeline linking Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan could be extended to India, AP reported on 11 July.

Minister Juma Mahammadi, speaking after talks on 10 July in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat, said the idea of extending the pipeline to India came from the international group that is seeking to build the conduit. The estimated $2 billion project calls for the construction of a 1,460-kilometer pipeline to carry natural gas from Turkmenistan's Dovletabad-Donmez field through Afghanistan to Pakistan. The project has received the backing of the United States.

A feasibility study is to be undertaken by September. (AP)

Turkmenistan's Grain-Harvest Plan Fulfilled

11 July 2002

Turkmenistan has fulfilled its grain harvest plan for 2002, Interfax reported on 11 July citing a source in the Turkmen Agriculture Ministry. "Over 2.3 million tons of grain have been harvested. President Saparmurat Niyazov has congratulated all farmers on their victory," the ministry representative said.

Turkmenistan will mark its national Harvest Holiday on the third Sunday in July, at which grain producers who harvested 40 tons per hectare or more will be honored. (Interfax)

Azerbaijani Tanker Explodes In The Turkmen Port

11 July 2002

According to an Interfax report on 11 July, an explosion occurred and a fire broke out on a tanker from Azerbaijan in the port of Turkmenbashi on the Turkmen coast of the Caspian Sea on 8 July, while the tanker was waiting to be loaded with fuel and crude oil.

Nine people suffered injuries and six are still unaccounted for. An investigation into the causes of an explosion on the Azerbaijani tanker "General Ali-Aga Shikhlinsky" is still under way. (Interfax)

Asian Development Bank Backs Afghan Pipeline Project

9 July 2002

A proposed natural-gas pipeline through Afghanistan received backing on 9 July from the Asian Development Bank during a meeting in Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabat, AP reported the same day.

The meeting was attended by Asian Development Bank officials and by ministers and government officials from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan. A representative of the U.S. Embassy also attended. Rajiv Kumar, the chief economist at the Asian Development Bank, said the bank would fund a feasibility study on the pipeline.

Robert Hanzy, of the U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan, said the United States government welcomes the Asian Development Bank's decision to help fund the project. (AP)

Turkmenistan, Germany Discuss Oil And Gas Cooperation

8 July 2002

President Niyazov met in Ashgabat on 8 July with Dr. Axel Gerlach, administrative State Secretary at the German Ministry of Economics and Technology, who visited Turkmenistan at the head of a large delegation of German businessmen, Interfax and reported. Niyazov invited Germany to take part in the building of the trans-Afghan gas pipeline, and also in exploring the hydrocarbon resources of the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea.

Niyazov and Gerlach discussed mutual cooperation in the supply of Turkmen gas to international markets. The sides also discussed cooperation in the energy, medicine, textile, transportation, and food industries. (Interfax,

China To Help Train, Equip Turkmen Armed Forces

8 July 2002

A Turkmen military delegation headed by Chief of General Staff Serdar Chariyarov visited China to discuss the possibility of Chinese assistance in training Turkmen officers and in providing uniforms and unspecified hardware for the Turkmen armed forces, Interfax and Turan reported on 8 July. The delegation held a meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian and Chief of the General Staff Fu Quanyou, who said that the Chinese armed forces attach great importance to defense links with Turkmenistan, and intend to expand them on the principles of equality and mutual benefit. The two countries are cooperating in training military personnel and intend to continue this cooperation. (Interfax, Turan)

Russia's Support For Gas Pipeline Through Afghanistan Unclear

11 July 2002

By Michael Lelyveld

Moscow has taken an equivocal stand on a planned pipeline through Afghanistan, saying this week that it will not try to block the project, as long as its interests are taken into account.

In an interview published on 10 July in "Izvestiya," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called for cooperation, noting that Russia had joined with U.S. companies in building the Caspian Pipeline Consortium project for oil exports from Kazakhstan. But he stopped short of saying that Moscow wants to play a similar role in the proposed gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan.

The plan, which is seen as a boost for recovery in Afghanistan, has been encouraged by the United States. But the pipeline would also give Turkmenistan a new export outlet for its gas, reducing its reliance on Russian routes.

Interfax quoted Ivanov as saying: "We cannot prohibit any country from pursuing a multilateral policy," adding that: "These countries should develop their [economies]. They cannot just wait for things to happen. We are searching for markets and investment. So are they. And everything depends on how active we are."

Ivanov also said, "The other thing is that we will not allow anybody to hurt our interests."

His statement suggests that Turkmenistan and other supporters may have to tread carefully in pursuing the pipeline project to determine what Russia's essential interests are.

This week, the $2.5 billion plan to pipe gas south from Turkmenistan's giant Dovletebad field to Pakistan took a step forward at a meeting of supporters in Ashgabat.

Rajiv Kumar, chief economist of the Asian Development Bank, said it would fund a feasibility study for the 1,460-kilometer line, which follows the same route as a project formerly sponsored by Unocal Corporation. The U.S.-based oil company dropped its plan in 1998 because of sanctions against Afghanistan's Taliban.

But Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov has been trying to revive the gas-export scheme with Kabul's new government. In May, Niyazov signed a memorandum of understanding with Afghanistan's then-interim leader, Hamid Karzai, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to carry out the feasibility study and promote the route. At the meeting in Ashgabat, U.S. Ambassador Laura Kennedy praised the project, the official "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan" paper reported. "The U.S. government also is ready to back the commercially viable trans-Afghan gas pipeline. The implementation of this program can produce a decisive impact on Afghanistan's stability and prosperity and, apart from this, would allow an increase in the volumes of Turkmen fuel exports and diversification of routes. We decisively support this point, too," Kennedy said.

But so far, Niyazov appears to have had more trouble in persuading Moscow to take part, despite Ivanov's call for cooperation. The Turkmen leader has invited Russia's Gazprom to join in building the pipeline. Last month, Niyazov also tried to interest the Russian oil company Rosneft and gas trader Itera in the project, but none of the firms has responded, so far.

It is unclear whether Moscow will support a project that channels Turkmen gas away from its territory, particularly considering that Russia has failed to secure a long-term agreement for Turkmen gas supplies for the past two years. Relations over the impasse and the Afghan project appear to be strained.

On 6 July, Niyazov was conspicuously absent from an informal summit of presidents from Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan at the Kazakh port of Aqtau. The meeting was called to discuss reconstruction in Afghanistan and energy cooperation. Niyazov gave no reason for staying away.

Ivanov's reference to the Caspian Pipeline Consortium project could also be a signal that cooperation may not come quickly or easily. The project, known as CPC, is very different from the Afghan pipeline in that it carries Kazakh oil entirely through Russian territory to the Black Sea.

Even so, the CPC project was subject to years of negotiation and false starts. The Russian government emerged as the biggest shareholder in the CPC venture with a 24 percent stake. It is unclear whether Ivanov's statement about Russia's interests is a sign that it would want a similar share of the Afghan project.

At a minimum, it seems likely that Niyazov would have to reach a long-term deal to supply gas to Russia before it would agree to support a pipeline that runs in the opposite direction, potentially depriving Russia of a source of fuel. In order to reach such an agreement, Niyazov would also have to ease his price demands on Moscow, which is something that he has been unwilling to do. (RFE/RL)