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Central Asia news

Europe will help Ashkhabad maintain stability

09.02.2007 14:23 msk

Nezavisimaya Gazeta

Interview

Touring Central Asia, EU Special Representative Pierre Morel visited Ashkhabad, the capital of Turkmenistan where he had discussed gas export to Europe with Saparmurat Niyazov last December bare days before the Turkmenbashi's death. Here is an interview with Pierre Morel on how he perceives the future of Turkmenistan and its cooperation with the European Union.

Question: Six candidates will be running for president on February 11. Is it an indication of the democratization trends indeed, or is the election is but a pure formality as chairman of the Central Election Commission seems to believe?

Pierre Morel: Our attention is focused on the developments in Turkmenistan because we firmly believe that what is happening in this country nowadays is of paramount importance. It marks a transition period that will affect the future of the country. Turkmenistan has found itself in a situation previously thought unthinkable and thus never made any allowances for. To a certain extent, the country has found itself in a state of shock. I was one of the last foreign officials to meet and talk with President Niyazov. I never thought then that I would be going back to Ashkhabad to attend his funeral several days later. I can only assume that the people of Turkmenistan will take its past experience into account and make a choice that will enable it to build a better future. As for the European Union, it should give serious thought to how it can help the Turkmen people. To be able to do that, however, Europe had to understood exactly what is happening in Turkmenistan and in what direction the country is moving. Bearing in mind the last 15 years of the history of Turkmenistan, the forthcoming election is undeniably an event of unprecedented importance. As for the candidates, they do not enjoy equal prominence and administrative experience, of course.

Question: You knew late President Niyazov. Do you know Gurbankuly Berdymuhammedov as well?

Pierre Morel: We've never met save for a brief exchange at the funeral. I only know that Berdymuhammedov is a political heavyweight with extensive experience in civil service. He has kept himself out of the spotlight of late. On the other hand, he did send a signal implying readiness for cooperation and interaction with the international community in the spheres of education, agriculture, health care. We took the signal seriously. We will use the EU Council to inform member states of this signal to have them respond to it the sooner the better.

Question: Does the EU intend to offer five Central Asian republics something analogous to the neighborhood policy concept?

Pierre Morel: There are no universal formulae, you know. The neighborhood policy concept is the outcome of EU countries' painstaking work in the course of expansion. We've done a lot, I believe, to advance relations with Central Asian countries. I'd like to emphasize, however, that this is not the neighborhood policy as such. Central Asian is far away, and capacities of the EU are therefore somewhat limited.

Question: What do you think of the Turkmen opposition whose leaders propose their return to the country to help with its restoration after years of dictatorship?

Pierre Morel: All political groups are searching for their own ways. We believe that our mission at this point comes down to observation. Let us wait for after the election before thinking about the possibility of the reforms, supremacy of the law, democracy. We believe that this approach is the best. It is always better to consider capacities of the country as such than to try and force it into the already existing cast.

Question: Turkmenistan has been a clannish republic of the USSR and a clannish state afterwards. Do you expect any changes on that score? What aid may be offered the people jailed in the years of the dictatorship?

Pierre Morel: We've never stopped calling for the release of political prisoners. As for the clans and tribes, that's a difficult question. It's not something that warrants a snap answer, you know. Matters like that require caution.

Question: Do you think the new Turkmen leadership will establish serious contacts with China? In the energy sphere, that is. What effect may it have on the economic development of the country? Is a gas OPEC at the regional level a possibility?

Pierre Morel: Everyone is interested in Turkmen gas, why deny it? The levels of cooperation, on the other hand, differ. In the meantime, we lack hard data on the Turkmen gas resources.

As for establishment of an organization like OPEC, opinions on it are split. It is common knowledge that the gas market is highly specific and would never put up with any "universal solutions" precisely because it is what it is. What can and should be done is improvement of relations between sellers and buyers, improvement of transit terms.

Question: Do you contemplate the possibility of disruption of the election and a civil war?

Pierre Morel: Let's hope for the best. The election should succeed and whatever is needed to make sure of it has to be done.

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Anya Vedenskaya

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 9, 2007, p. 7

© Translated by Ferghana.Ru