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NATO Envoy Plays Down Turkmen Base Plans


NATO special representative Robert Simmons (left) during a recent visit to Georgia.

NATO special representative Robert Simmons (left) during a recent visit to Georgia.

Brussels -- NATO special representative for Central Asia and Caucasus Robert Simmons has downplayed the controversy over Turkmenistan's plan to establish a naval base on its Caspian coast, saying it's natural for littoral states to boost border security to protect against an increasingly active transit route for illegal activities.

Turkmen President Berdymukhammedov recently declared the plans for the base and his intention to buy missile-equipped military ships against a backdrop of continuing disputes with Azerbaijan over several offshore oil and gas fields.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Simmons noted that Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are both members of NATO's Partnership for Peace program.

Simmons said one of the principles of this partnership is countries should solve their disputes by peaceful means.

Regarding the German AWACS surveillance planes bound for Afghanistan that were reportedly denied permission for overflight by Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, Simmons said NATO is continuing discussions with both countries.

Simmons also emphasized that the purpose of those AWACS planes flying to Afghanistan will not be surveillance but air-traffic control if they are used.

Simmons said Turkmenistan currently permits NATO aircraft to transit its airspace, particularly cargo planes for nonlethal equipment.

According to Simmons, there is no surface transportation through Turkmenistan currently since its government has not yet given permission for use of its roads and railways.

Simmons said there are rights to land in emergency cases such as fueling operations.

NATO official says all of their work with Turkmenistan fully respects the neutrality of the country.

Simmons says cooperation over Afghanistan is not incompatible with Turkmenistan's neutral status.
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