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Turkmen Report: July 22, 2002

22 July 2002
Japan Suggests Involvement In Trans-Afghan Pipeline

19 July 2002

Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Seiken Sugiura said on 19 July that Japan is considering its potential involvement in a proposed trans-Afghanistan gas pipeline, AP reported the same day.

Seiken, speaking in Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabat, said several Asian countries -- including China and North Korea and South Korea -- want to wean themselves from dependence on Persian Gulf energy supplies and are looking at Turkmenistan as a prospective partner.

The proposed trans-Afghan project calls for the construction of a 1,460-kilometer pipeline to carry natural gas from Turkmenistan's Dovletabad-Donmez field through Afghanistan to Multan, Pakistan. The construction is estimated at a cost of $2 billion dollars. No deal has yet been reached to build the pipeline.

A similar project was discussed in 1997 with the participation of U.S. energy giant Unocal Corp., but was abandoned the following year. (AP)

Light Earthquake Shakes Turkmen City

19 July 2002

According to an Interfax report on 19 July, there were no casualties or damage in an earthquake measuring between 2.5 and 3 on the Richter scale that was registered 80 kilometers south of the Turkmen town of Chagyl, an official in the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry's press service said. (Interfax)

Turkmenistan Bans Import And Export Of Most Livestock

16 July 2002

Turkmenistan's government on 16 July announced a ban on the import and export of cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and pigs, AP and Interfax reported the same day.

President Saparmurat Niyazov's order was quoted by several sources, including the state-run "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan" newspaper and a spokesman for the Turkmen cabinet.

Niyazov has forbidden ministries, regional, district and city authorities, enterprises and organizations, irrespective of their ownership status, as well as legal entities and individuals, from signing contracts involving the import, export, and transit of domestic animals. The sources said the order was prompted by the need to protect the health of Turkmenistan's animals and residents, particularly from infectious diseases "and help the country save and increase its livestock." The order exempts breeding cattle, which will still be allowed to be imported and exported with the agreement of the authorities. (AP, Interfax)

Daimler Chrysler To Supply Turkmenistan With Specialized Equipment

16 July 2002

The Daimler Chrysler company is looking to ship large consignments of specialized automotive equipment to meet the needs of Turkmenistan's oil and gas and transportation sectors, Interfax reported on 16 July.

After a meeting with President Niyazov, the company's overseas president, Erich Jonscher, told the press that his company and the Turkmen government are in the process of working out a major agreement that will define the process for shipments and servicing the equipment. The document will be submitted for government approval by the beginning of August. In Niyazov's view, the most important thing now is stepping up mutually beneficial partnership with the company. Today, the president said, it is necessary to create the corresponding technical basis, taking into account Turkmenistan's huge economic potential. (Interfax)

U.S. Provides Grants To Central Asian States

15 July 2002

The U.S. governmental Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded five grants totaling $22.2 million to the former Soviet Republics located in Central Asia, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 July.

USAID said in a press release the funds have been provided as part of the Community Action Investment Program, a program "designed to build social stability and alleviate sources of potential conflict" in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The program "will focus on communities where the potential for conflict is most acute, such as the Ferghana Valley."

The program will be implemented through a number of international organizations in conjunction with similar local NGOs. The U.S. government-provided funds are due to be spent to finance projects that will secure technical assistance in the consolidation of the democratic processes. (ITAR-TASS)

Azerbaijan To Open Embassy In Turkmenistan

15 July 2002

Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev told journalists in Baku on 13 July that Azerbaijan would open an embassy in Ashgabat before the end of this year, Turan reported on 15 July.

Turkmenistan closed its embassy in Baku 13 months ago, citing financial constraints. The two countries are at odds over ownership of several offshore Caspian oil fields. (Turan)

A Delicate Balance Prevails In Caspian

16 July 2002

By Michael Lelyveld

Next week marks the anniversary of an event that is unlikely to be celebrated in the Caspian region, one year after the first armed confrontation between littoral states.

The incident occurred last 23 July when two Azerbaijani research ships were chased by an Iranian gunboat from a disputed oil field in the southern Caspian. The near-clash was the most serious conflict in the oil-rich waters since the Soviet breakup created five Caspian countries in place of the previous two.

Yet, despite concerns about hostilities, cooler heads seem to have prevailed in the past year. Although there has been scant progress in settling boundaries, there has also been no repetition of the encounter. Rash actions have been checked by a mix of diplomacy and power.

The first display of preventive power by Turkey followed soon after the incident, when Ankara sent fighter jets to Baku in late August for an air show that also served as a show of force on behalf of its ethnic ally, Azerbaijan. Both the United States and Russia registered disapproval of the Iranian action, with President Vladimir Putin calling the use of force in the Caspian "impermissible."

While violence was averted, the past year has demonstrated the delicate balance between the show of force on the one hand and its use on the other. Today, the Caspian countries may be more prepared for border clashes but also more wary of the damage they cause.

The immediate result of the 23 July incident was a decision by Britain's BP oil company to suspend all activity under its contract with Azerbaijan in the oil field that Baku calls Alov and Tehran calls Alborz. Since then, a pall has fallen over development in the southern Caspian, where the border may be challenged.

By contrast, activity has accelerated in the northern Caspian, where Russia and Kazakhstan have reached a bilateral deal on boundaries and sharing disputed oil fields.

Last week, the London-based industry journal "Nefte Compass" quoted Kazakhstan Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik as saying that tenders will take place this year on some of the country's 120 offshore structures. The new investment will come within months of the border setting with Russia in May.

Iran has protested such agreements as illegal before a five-way division accord is completed, but the lesson seems clear. Bilateral disputes block development so that neither side gains.

A similar border row between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan has stalled work in the central Caspian since 1997 and helped kill a trans-Caspian gas pipeline that might have benefited both.

In Iran's case, the use of force also exposed weaknesses that are still causing concerns. It was never clear, for example, whether the armed expulsion was ordered by Iran's political leaders or conducted solely by the military. Within days, Iranian diplomats offered to mediate the matter and took pains to deny a buildup on the border, as if sensing the potential for self-inflicted harm.

Iran's isolation also came into focus as it found itself without allies in its dispute with Azerbaijan. Only neutral Turkmenistan gave it any sympathy at all.

Diplomacy provided an opening for improvement during the past year, as Ashgabat hosted the first-ever Caspian summit in April to resolve the decade-old problem of a legal division. But Russia's formula for splitting only the sea floor into sectors collided again with Iran's demands for either common control or a 20 percent share, which is more than its coastline would merit.

More important than the summit have been the recent exchanges between Iran and Azerbaijan, particularly since the visit by President Heidar Aliyev to Tehran in May. No border settlement has been reached as a result, but the contacts seem to have drawn a new line under how far tensions will be allowed to go.

Putin seemed to draw his own limit on fruitless diplomacy by flying straight from the failed summit to the Russian port of Astrakhan, where he ordered naval exercises for next month, just one year after Turkey's show of force. Russia's demonstration is likely to impress its Caspian neighbors. According to the official RIA-Novosti news agency, 60 vessels and 10,000 troops will take part, including air-force elements from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

Moscow may also use the occasion to debut its new warship, the "Tatarstan," a 102-meter-long vessel that was turned over to the Caspian Fleet last week, according to ITAR-TASS and Russian television. The Kremlin says that observers will be present from all the Caspian states.

Iran's response to the Russian exercise has been mixed. Press reactions have grown more muted since the maneuvers were announced in April, although the daily "Abrar" warned against the move this month. The paper charged that Moscow is bent on "seriously pursuing its demands for dividing the sea's natural resources and justifying its unilateral operations in the waters," the Xinhua news agency reported.

Taking the opposite point, the daily "Hayat-e Now" reported the view of university lecturer Seyfolreza Shahabi, who argued that the exercises would serve Iran's interests. Shahabi said: "The two great coastal powers, namely Iran and Russia, must move closer to each other and ensure that smaller countries will not feel unsafe. Smaller countries should also be made to feel safe to ensure that they will not try to get closer to extraregional powers."

The view seems to reflect the judgment that Iran cannot risk its wider range of relations with Russia over the Caspian. That reasoning may now extend to disputes with Russia's neighbors, like Azerbaijan, leaving them in a nonviolent limbo, which is preferable to the danger they faced in the Caspian one year ago. (RFE/RL)