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Cablegate: Ahmedinejad's Visit to Ashgabat Yields Mostly

VZCZCXRO2063
PP RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHAH #0895/01 2401330
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 281330Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9261
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHAD/AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI PRIORITY 0214
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO PRIORITY 0526
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA PRIORITY 0548
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 2236
RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 0980
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 1032
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL//CCJ2/HSE/CCJ5// PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC//DHO-2/REA/NMJIC-J2// PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC//J5/RUE// PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 1304

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASHGABAT 000895

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/CEN, NEA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL ENRG EPET ETRD IR TX
SUBJECT: AHMEDINEJAD'S VISIT TO ASHGABAT YIELDS MOSTLY
BORDER AGREEMENTS

REF: A. ASHGABAT 609
B. 06 ASHGABAT 804

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Following on the heels of President
Berdimuhamedov's official visit to Tehran two months ago,
Iranian President Ahmadinejad made an official visit to
Ashgabat August 14-15 on his way to the Shanghai Organization
Summit in Bishkek. Although Iranian ministers arriving in
Turkmenistan ahead of Ahmadinejad suggested that the two main
topics of discussion would be oil and gas, and creation of a
north-south transportation corridor, the resulting agreements
did not reflect a meeting of the minds on these topics. The
two heads of state signed several agreements and memoranda on
border-area water management, trade and media cooperation,
and agreed to meet further in Bishkek --
a meeting which did not take place. Notwithstanding
Ahmadinejad's assiduous courting, Berdimuhamedov
still seems to be determined to keep the expanding
relationship focused on improving economic, trade and
cultural ties, rather than throwing political support behind
his problematic neighbor to the south. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) Two months after President Berdimuhamedov,s visit to
Tehran (ref a), Iranian President Ahmadinejad paid an
official visit to Ashgabat on August 14 and 15 on his way to
the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization Summit in Bishkek. The media had
been playing up the meeting a week before it took place. A
bevy of Iranian officials, who hinted the main topics would
be oil and
gas and the creation of a north-south transportation
corridor, descended on Ashgabat several days in advance to
negotiate the various documents. Yet, even the day before
Ahmadinejad's visit,
local media coverage of the talks was noticeably lukewarm.

3. (U) Actual contacts between the two leaders consisted of
two meetings, a state dinner, a signing ceremony for the five
documents emerging from the visit, and a joint press
conference. The five documents included:

-- A joint statement that was largely a recap of the joint
statement from Berdimuhamedov's June 15-16 visit to Tehran,
although it underlined the importance of continuing gas, oil
and electricity exports from Turkmenistan to Iran and
implementation of bilateral energy agreements.

-- A memorandum on bilateral cooperation in radio and
television broadcasting. Among other things, this document
envisages joint productions;

-- A memorandum of cooperation in trade and economic
relations;

-- An agreement on cooperation in construction and operation
of a water distribution system and diversion dam of the
Tejen/Harirud River at Shirdepe settlement; and

-- An agreement on completion and joint operation of Dostluk
dam at the Murghab River.

Ahmedinejad also invited Berdimuhamedov to make a second
visit to Tehran, and the two announced that they would have
an additional bilateral meeting during the SCO summit in
Bishkek. (NOTE: The meeting in Bishkek never materialized;
Berdimuhamedov met there only with the presidents of
Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, and with UN General Deputy Secretary
Lynn Pascoe. END NOTE.)

4. (SBU) Substantive developments included:

-- Caspian Energy. The two leaders discussed Caspian energy
issues, but the discussions resulted only in promises to form
a joint working group to consider the question of joint
development of hydrocarbon resources on the Caspian shelf.
One media source reported that, during a recent meeting with

ASHGABAT 00000895 002 OF 002


Turkish officials regarding the potential transit of Central
Asian gas to the West, Iranian representatives had offered to
facilitate the transit of gas to Europe and South Asia.
Turkmen officials had agreed
to consider the offer. (COMMENT: While in Abu Dhabi on
August 27, President Berdimuhamedov noted in passing that
Turkmenistan was working on expanding the Korpeje-Kurt-Kui
pipeline to Iran. END COMMENT.) Ahmedinejad commented that
the two countries have common views on the future of the
Caspian, and invited President Berdimuhamedov to discuss it
further during the Caspian states summit
scheduled for later this year in Tehran.

-- Cross-border Trade. The two parties signed a memorandum
that will ease border-crossing restrictions for border-region
residents in Turkmenistan's Ahal and Balkan provinces for the
purpose of trade, and facilitate the establishment of
border-area markets. The two countries will establish a
joint working group with the goal of promoting mutual trade.

-- Joint Water Management. The parties also signed
agreements that will advance the construction and joint
operation of two dams that will facilitate management of
limited water resources on the border south of Sarakhs. The
first project is the construction of a water distribution
system and dam near Shirdepe on the Tejen (Harirud) River.
Its completion would facilitate more efficient water
management near Tejen, to include better managing an
increased flow of water during the rainy season,
according to News Central Asia reports. The second project
regards the formation of a working group to address the
approaching completion and joint operation of the Dostluk Dam
on the Murghab River, also near Sarakhs. The dam is designed
to irrigate 25,000 hectares of land on each side of the
river.
-- Transportation. Early press reports suggested that the
Iranian leader supported Berdimuhamedov's recently noted goal
of creating a "North-South" transportation corridor, and
Ahmedinejad publicly stated that fostering transportation
links was one of the most important and promising areas of
cooperation for the two countries.

-- Repayment of Debt. Turkmenistan agreed to pay an
outstanding debt of $5 million that it owed Iran for doing
road construction in Turkmenistan back in the early 2000's.

COMMENT

5. (SBU) The belief here is that it is Ahmadinejad, seeking
to shore up support among his
neighbors, rather than Berdimuhamedov, who is really driving
the relationship. While Turkmenistan wants and needs to have
a normal relationship with its southern neighbor -- with whom
it shares its longest border -- most here also agree that
Turkmenistan is well aware that getting out in front of the
international community will endanger both Turkmenistan's
policy of neutrality and its political standing. For this
reason, Berdimuhamedov seems to be focusing primarily on
developing economic and
cultural ties, rather than being pulled into expressing
political support. And, although the two are seeking to ease
tensions along their common border, the Government of
Turkmenistan still has not agreed to ease its extraordinarily
tough visa regime for Iranian citizens. END COMMENT.

HOAGLAND

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