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Turkmenistan Seeks Bigger Role as US Ally on Afghanistan

By News Briefing Central Asia

Although the latest round of Turkmen-American consultations officially focused on bilateral trade and energy issues, NBCentralAsia analysts say there was also talk of cooperation on Afghanistan.

Turkmenistan may be prepared to formalise arrangements for providing fuel to the NATO-led force in Afghanistan and allowing US planes to land at airbases in the country, they say.

Robert Blake, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, led his country’s delegation to the February 16 talks with President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov.

Afterwards, Blake told journalists that Washington was "very pleased" with the support Turkmenistan was already providing in Afghanistan – supplying electricity, repairing schools and hospitals, and leading a pipeline project which would take Turkmen gas to South Asia.

A commentator in the capital Ashgabat said Turkmenistan was keen to reach out to the US, and noted that this was the third high-level US team to visit the country this year.

"Berdymuhammedov is making, or hinting at, various offers to the US. He wants to have a [regional] monopoly on this,” he said.

The EurasiaNet website reports that US military transport planes have refuelled at Ashgabat airport since 2002, and that Turkmenistan has supplied fuel to American forces inside Afghanistan.

NBCentralAsia observers say Turkmenistan is gaining in importance as a fuel supplier and also because it has airfields suitable for heavy planes.

Annadurdy Hadjiev, a Turkmen economic analyst based in Bulgaria, said both Washington and Ashgabat had their own reasons for furthering the relationship.

The Turkmen leadership may be hoping to use the US as a counterbalance to its relationship with Moscow, and also to soften criticism of the conduct of a presidential election due in.

"Each side is trying to extract the maximum possible from the other,” he said. "Berdymuhammedov is already worrying about ensuring the West stays quiet on the election, or else takes a lenient approach. In return, the West will set terms of its own, such as allowing freight and fuel to transit freely, and setting up bases."

This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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