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Cablegate: Mejlis Speaker Welcomes Das Feigenbaum's Offers - but Stops

VZCZCXRO6048
RR RUEHAST RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHMRE RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR
RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHAH #0617/01 1771342
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 261342Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8899
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUCNOSC/OSCE POST COLLECTIVE
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 0358
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 0380
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 2068
RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL 0817
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 0174
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0865
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 0087
RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI 0136
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0058
RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE 0072
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 0097
RUEHPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR 0410
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC//DHO-2/REA/NMJIC-J2//
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC//J5/RUE//
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASHGABAT 000617

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/CEN (NICOLAIDIS AND SNELSIRE)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ENRG PINR PREL PGOV TX US AF
SUBJECT: MEJLIS SPEAKER WELCOMES DAS FEIGENBAUM'S OFFERS - BUT STOPS
SHORT OF ACCEPTING INVITATION

ASHGABAT 00000617 001.2 OF 002

SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) As part of his visit to Ashgabat to press forward in the
bilateral relationship since the inauguration of President
Berdimuhammedov, Deputy Assistant Secretary Evan Feigenbaum met on
June 25 with Mejlis (Parliament) Speaker Akja Nurberdiyeva to
discuss opportunities for cooperation between Turkmenistan's main
legislative body and USG entities. In a step forward from recent
meetings with embassy representatives, the speaker outlined several
upcoming parliamentary initiatives aimed at strengthening local
self-governance and increasing the Mejlis' contact with local
populations. Although her description of planned activities closely
resembled USAID's existing community empowerment program, she said
the Mejlis planned to implement these programs in conjunction with
the U.N. Development Program (UNDP). After saying that most of her
deputies had already visited the United States on various exchanges,
she still stopped short of responding to DAS Feigenbaum's question
about whether she might be willing to visit the U.S. to learn more
about the relationship between the executive and legislative
branches. End Summary.

SMALL STEPS TOWARDS DECENTRALIZATION
------------------------------------

2. (U) SCA DAS Evan Feigenbaum met with Mejlis Speaker Akja
Nurberdiyeva on June 25 to discuss recent developments and possible
opportunities for cooperation. Noting President Berdimuhammedov's
stated desire to "make things real" during their meeting earlier the
same morning (septel), DAS Feigenbaum highlighted the importance of
maintaining a multidimensional nature to the U.S.-Turkmenistan
relationship, including in the area of political development and
democratization. After a brief overview of the Mejlis' operations,
Nurberdiyeva outlined a pilot local self-government program that was
planned in conjunction with the UNDP. Explaining that her
understanding of self-government entails both greater local autonomy
for local officials on issues such as financing and budgeting as
well as increased citizens' participation, she stated that the
current challenge for the Mejlis was to find elected officials who
could carry out the planned activities. Furthermore, if the
previous relationship between hakimliks (Note: Appointed
administrative local government structures. End Note.) and the
Gengeshe (Note: Locally elected, but largely powerless, government
bodies. End Note.) was like that of a supervisor and subordinate,
she now hoped to change this into a "partnership."

3. (U) The Charge informed Nurberdiyeva that the planned activities
closely resembled those already proposed by USAID's Community
Empowerment Project, and expressed hope that Mejlis activities in
this important area could be harmonized with USAID's efforts.
(Comment: USAID submitted detailed information on this project to
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on April 5, but neither USAID nor
its implementing partner, Counterpart International, has yet to
receive any feedback from the government. End Comment.)
Nurberdiyeva noted that the first step in empowering local officials
was to ensure that they understood the laws and their
responsibilities. To this end, beginning in mid-July, the Mejlis
planned to train all Gengesh members, and suggested possible
cooperation through assistance in publishing brochures on existing
legislation.

SLOWLY CHANGING MEJLIS INTERACTIONS WITH CITIZENS
--------------------------------------------- --

4. (U) In response to DAS Feigenbaum's description of the many ways
in which the legislative branch interacts with its constituents in
the U.S., including direct elections, constituent services, district
offices, and internships for constituents, Nurberdiyeva said that
various connections currently existed between Turkmenistan's

ASHGABAT 00000617 002.2 OF 002


deputies and the public. One example was that deputies traveled
back to their districts to meet with their constituents. Citizens
were also able to connect with a Mejlis deputy, although not
necessarily the representative from their district, if they came to
the parliament building. While lacking office space for each
member, common meeting rooms were available for use during such
encounters. Additionally, Mejlis members held a call-in television
show that addressed various aspects of legislation and civic issues.


5. (U) Quoting the maxim that "all politics are local," DAS
Feigenbaum noted many new possibilities to link citizens to their
local officials. Nurberdiyeva stated that Turkmenistan was "just in
the early stages" and was trying to resolve this challenge by
linking local officials to the Mejlis deputies. Reflecting her past
work with, and interest in, education and youth issues, the speaker
stressed the importance of an educated and informed population in
this process, especially its role in nominating and selecting
candidates for local office.

6. (SBU) Summarizing three areas of common interest, DAS Feigenbaum
noted that the discussion had touched on local self-government,
connecting citizens to the Mejlis, and elections. He suggested that
opportunities for cooperation existed with ongoing USAID programs
focused on local self-governance. In order to see how the U.S.
Congress provided constituent services in both Washington, DC, and
its local offices, he asked when the speaker and other delegates
might be interested in visiting the United States. Nurberdiyeva
responded that "We have many people who can go." Regarding
elections, DAS Feigenbaum recalled his January meeting with Foreign
Minister Meredov when they had discussed the prospect of OSCE
support for a sequence of elections, including upcoming Mejlis
elections. He encouraged the speaker to take advantage of the
OSCE's expertise in this area. Finally, he suggested that
internship programs were a good way to get youth involved in their
government.

COMMENT
-------

7. (U) The always engaging Speaker Nurberdiyeva was more expansive
in her plans for the Mejlis than she has been in recent meetings
with embassy visitors. She acknowledged the importance of education
in developing an informed citizenry as well as to a local government
that is able to respond to its citizens' needs. Significant
opportunities exist to work with the Mejlis, an emerging entity in
post-Niyazov Turkmenistan, and recent working-level meetings with
selected Mejlis committee heads have demonstrated an interest on
their part to learn more about the types of technical assistance the
USG can offer. In order to move to the next step, embassy should
submit concrete proposals for their review. End Comment.

8. DAS Feigenbaum has cleared this message.

BRUSH

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