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Kazakhstan/Turkmenistan: Resource-Rich Central Asian Duo Seeks Cooperation

Presidents Nazarbaev (left) and Berdymukhammedov in Astana on May 28 (official site) May 29, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The presidents of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, Nursultan Nazarbaev and Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, have held talks that both sides hope will lay the basis for close cooperation between their resource-rich Central Asian countries.

Berdymukhammedov, who was inaugurated in February, appears to be pushing for a renewal of contacts with the outside world, after the long isolation imposed by his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov.

Nazarbaev and Berdymukhammedov are an unlikely pair in many ways. The first is a political veteran and survivor who has held a tight grip on his country for many years. The other is a former dentist and new leader whose policies so far are largely unknown.

But it is clear they want to intensify economic relations between their two countries, which are the region's superpowers in natural resources.

At a press conference in Astana on May 28, Nazarbaev spoke along those lines. "Both Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are countries that possess enormous deposits of energy resources -- oil and gas -- and cooperation gives us big mutual benefits," Nazarbaev said.

Hand In Hand

Nazarbaev added that he and Berdymukhammedov discussed in detail the role of Kazakh companies in developing Turkmen resources.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service correspondent in Astana, Baurzhan Shayakhmet, says the leaders discussed various other development projects, largely in general terms.

"The two presidents said that there will be a new road from Zhetybai (Kazakhstan) to Turkmenbashi City, a distance of 237 kilometers," Shayakhmet says. "This will part of the international corridor from Astrakhan (in Russia) to Atyrau and Aktau and on to the border of Turkmenistan. That will provide a land route from Turkmenistan to Russia. Also, besides the automotive route, they plan to reconstruct the railway link that will also, as the two presidents said, allow the transportation of Turkmen goods through Kazakhstan and Russia on to Europe."

A New Tone

Speaking on his arrival in Astana on Monday, Berdymukhammedov indicated that he wants to lessen the isolation imposed on Turkmenistan by his late predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov. He told journalists that he wants his country to take a more active role in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The late President Niyazov downgraded relations with that organization from full membership to associate membership.

There is speculation about how far Berdymukhammedov plans to go in opening up Turkmenistan to the world again. However, a clue that he may be planning to dismantle Niyazov's personality cult comes from the eastern Turkmen city of Turkmenabat.

Out With The Old

The Turkmen opposition website "Khronika Turkmenistana" reported on May 28 that a statue of Niyazov has been taken down, and many of Niyazov's portraits there have also disappeared.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service asked Farid Tukhbatullin, of the Vienna-based Turkmenistan Initiative group, what this means.

"Obviously this [order to dismantle a Niyazov statue] comes from the high echelons of power, because it is not likely that local officials would make such a move independently," Tukhbatullin said. "I supposed that now, quietly, many more monuments [to Niyazov] are going to be dismantled. There are many of them throughout Turkmenistan."

There are other indications that the new leadership in Turkmenistan plans to ease the isolation. It has moved to restore passenger flights to Kazakhstan and to Russia, and it has promised to improve communications with the outside world.

In addition, on May 23, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov traveled to Turkmenistan in the first visit by an Azerbaijani foreign minister in a decade. Relations between the two countries have been poor for years, largely because of a dispute over ownership of a Caspian Sea oil field.

Central Asia In Focus

Central Asia In Focus

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