Turkmenistan: Gurbankuly Berdymuhammedov hopes to meet with George W. Bush
Another US emissary, the third this year after Senator Richard Lugar and Admiral William Fallon of the US Central Command, was met in Ashkhabad in late January. Diplomat Stephen Mann, 56, is well known both in Turkmenistan, all over the Caspian region, and in the Caucasus. US Ambassador to Ashkhabad in the late 1990s, Mann then became US president's envoy in the Caspian region, senior advisor of the US Department of State on energy policy in the region, and finally US chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group for Karabakh conflict settlement. This time, Mann visited the capital of Turkmenistan in the capacity of coordinator of the Eurasian Energy Diplomacy of the US Department of State.
President of Turkmenistan Gurbankuly Berdymuhammedov received Mann to be assured that regular tours of the region enabled the guest to see how "interest in the progressive reforms implemented in Turkmenistan under Berdymuhammedov's leadership and respect for them" was growing all over Central Asia.
Turkmen news agencies in the meantime reported that Lugar had sent a letter to Berdymuhammedov. Inviting the addressee to share his joy over progress made in the Turkmen-American cooperation so far, Lugar assured the Turkmen president that he would do everything "to support advancement and proliferation of mutually beneficial contacts." The US lawmaker implied that he would be happy to "receive the Turkmen leader in Washington in the near future."
There is no saying whether Lugar's letter was delivered by Mann or came through diplomatic channels but the coincidence is startling. Mann and Lugar need an agreement from Ashkhabad to join the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline bypassing the territory of Russia. Washington's lobby for this project has been particularly energetic of late, undeniably triggered by the Kazakh-Turkmen-Russian accord to build the Caspian Gas Pipeline signed in late 2007 and the South Stream accord Russia and Bulgaria signed earlier this month (South Stream rivals Nabucco, the gas pipeline promoted by the United States and European Union).
Choosing the moment for the official proclamation of the talks over the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline construction is Ashkhabad's headache nowadays. The moment should be chosen with care, so that Moscow will have no reasons to doubt Ashkhabad's determination (and ability) to honor its commitments with regard to the Caspian Gas Pipeline. The Turkmen authorities go out of their way to appease partners' fears. When Lugar left Turkmenistan this January, Ashkhabad suggested an audit of the national gas reserves. It is supposed to persuade the Kremlin that Turkmenistan has enough gas for all export routes (via Russia and the Caspian Sea to Europe, to China, to Iran, and so on) and to spare.
What information is available to this newspaper indicates that Ashkhabad may make the announcement on the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline during election of the president in Russia. Turkmen officials believe for some reason that what personal guarantees Berdymuhammedov gave Putin will be less valid when applied to Putin's successor Dmitry Medvedev. Particularly since Medvedev himself will be no longer with Gazprom then. Clearly in order to push Berdymuhammedov in the necessary direction, Lugar hinted in his letter of the possibility of an official invitation to Washington and specifically to the White House "in the near future". Central Asian leaders usually have to wait years for an invitation like that. Berdymuhammedov in the meantime is about to celebrate his very first year in office.
Arkady Dubnov, Vremya Novostei, No 14, February 1, 2008, p. 5