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Central Asia: Solana Visit To Focus On Energy, Drug Trade

Solana (right) with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file) (official site) BRUSSELS, October 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana will tour Central Asia next week to discuss energy cooperation, combating the drug trade, and other issues.

The October 8-10 visit will take Solana to Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

Solana's visit will look inject new life into the European Union's relations with Central Asia after the relative lull that has followed the adoption of the EU's first ever strategy for the region in June.

"The best way to signal that the region is important for us and that we want to deepen this strategic dialogue is to pay a visit," Solana's spokeswoman Christina Gallach told RFE/RL. " And [Solana] has chosen [the] three countries for several reasons -- he already saw the ambassador of Uzbekistan in New York, so that is a point, and he has been in contact, well, regularly with the Tajik president. Therefore we think it's a good selection because the timeline is not long."

Energy, Drugs

The substance of the talks will revolve around two main issues: energy cooperation and the fight against drug trafficking.

The EU is interested in establishing direct links with energy-rich Central Asia, which is also being wooed by other major actors, among them Russia and China.

The bloc's ambitions, however, have so far not been matched by action. Plans for a trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan remain on the drawing board. The EU is also struggling to build a vital gas transit link between hubs in Turkey and Austria.

Central Asia is also one of the main corridors for drug traffic between Afghanistan and Europe. Opium extracted from Afghan poppies supplies more than 90 percent of the heroin sold on European streets.

Addressing the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on October 3, Solana said the Central Asian countries were also an important factor in Western efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

"[I will] visit the countries at the border [of Afghanistan] in order to see how we can organize or mobilize, to be more cooperative on the traffic[king] of drugs," he said. "A country with the problems that Afghanistan has, [of] security, [of] lack of control of the whole country by the central government -- if on top of that you have the money that is produced [with] drugs, and the capacity for corruption [that] that money has, it will make all our tasks much more difficult. Therefore to fight against that is a fundamental of an exist strategy for the stabilization of Afghanistan."

Solana also said poppy cultivation was spilling over Afghanistan's borders into neighboring countries, though he did not elaborate.

Solana's decision not to visit Uzbekistan on his visit reflects growing concerns within the EU that its attempts at a dialogue with President Islam Karimov's government have reached a dead end.

Turkmenistan, on the other hand, is fast becoming one of the EU's better partners in the region. Gallach said Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov would visit Brussels later this year.

Central Asia In Focus

Central Asia In Focus

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