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Cablegate: Ahmadinejad in Tajikistan, Calls Ties "Strategic"

VZCZCXRO2389
PP RUEHLN RUEHSK RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHDBU #0037/01 0071100
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 071100Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY DUSHANBE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1113
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 0376
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEHDBU/AMEMBASSY DUSHANBE 2443

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DUSHANBE 000037

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV ENRG ECON TI IR
SUBJECT: AHMADINEJAD IN TAJIKISTAN, CALLS TIES "STRATEGIC"

REF: A. 09 DUSHANBE 1443
B. 09 DUSHANBE 1434
C. 09 DUSHANBE 997

DUSHANBE 00000037 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid a
24-hour state visit to Dushanbe. He signed economic and social
agreements with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, few of which
were new or substantive. The Iranians committed to provide $6
million to complete the long-delayed Istiqlol tunnel north of
Dushanbe and agreed to look into building a hydroelectric dam on
the Zaravshan River. The Iranians and Tajiks signed agreements
on extradition, cooperation in earth sciences, and parliamentary
cooperation. Rahmon publicly supported Iran's right to pursue a
"peaceful nuclear program," while Ahmadinejad delivered a screed
against world superpowers seeking to trample Iran's rights.
Despite the show of solidarity, a significant gulf remains
between Tajikistan and Iran. End summary.

2. (U) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid a 24-hour
state visit to Dushanbe this week, arriving on the morning of
January 4 and departing the next day. Ahmadinejad was
accompanied by presidential advisor Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, the
Iranian Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Energy, Oil,
Roads and Transport, seven parliamentary deputies, the Secretary
General of Iran's Red Crescent Society, and several deputy
ministers. During the visit Tajik and Iranian officials
reportedly signed three letters of understanding, two documents
and one joint statement on bilateral cooperation. The
delegation left for Turkmenistan on January 5.

DUSHANBE YAWNS

3. (SBU) Ahmadinejad's visit produced the usual snarl of traffic
as police closed Dushanbe's two main streets to make way for
official motorcades. While coverage in the local media was
widespread, the visit did not even make the top slot in many
news programs; this went to the ongoing epic struggle to build
Roghun (Ref A). A number of diplomats failed show up at the
MFA-organized lineup to greet Ahmadinejad at the airport. The
Ambassador of Russia, for example, told us he was "too busy."
Local news coverage was positive, although outside sources had
more critical comments. Andrey Gusev, writing in CentrAsia.ru,
said Tajikistan and Iran were hardly soulmates, but Tajikistan
risked making relations even worse by attempting to extort
assistance from the Iranians by coyly threatening to cozy up to
the Americans if the funding didn't materialize. At the same
time, he said, it was not lost on the Iranians that much of the
money they provided ended up in the pockets of senior Tajik
officials.

Iranians Pledge to Finish Tunnel, Build New Power Plants

4. (U) The Iranian Ministry of Energy signed an agreement with
its Tajik counterpart to explore the construction of a new dam
and hydropower plant on the Zaravshan River north of Dushanbe.
With the recent completion of the South-North electrical
transmission line, the Zaravshan Valley is the only major region
of the country not connected to a domestic grid. The valley's
three districts continue to receive their power from Uzbekistan
on a pre-payment basis. Since Uzbekistan's withdrawal from the
Central Asian unified energy grid, however, increasing
Tajikistan's energy self-reliance has become the government's
single biggest priority (refs A and B). According to news
reports, Iran's Farab Company signed an agreement with Tajik
state electricity company Barqi Tojik to conduct a feasibility
study for the Ayni Dam, which, according to Tajik Minister of
Energy and Industry Gul Sherali, will produce up to 170 MW of
electricity. The Iranian and Tajik presidents discussed ways to
speed up construction of the 220 MW Sangtuda-2 hydropower plant,
as well as prospects for collaborating on a small 21 MW power
plant on the Iskandardarya River, also in the Zaravshan Valley,
and the 870 MW Shurob hydropower station. Sherali said the
Iranians also would help Tajikistan train personnel for its oil
and gas sector and would participate in exploration and
development of gas fields in Tajikistan.

5. (U) The Iranian delegation finally agreed to allocate $6
million -- a $1 million grant and a $5 million preferential loan
-- to complete the Istiqlol (or Anzob) Tunnel on the highway
linking Dushanbe and the north of Tajikistan. Iranian
Ambassador to Tajikistan Ali-Asghar Sherdoust announced in
September 2009 that the grant was authorized but the two
governments were working out the repayment structure for the
loan. Although President Rahmon presided with great fanfare
over the official opening of the tunnel more than three years
ago, the project remains in a dangerous state of incompletion.
The tunnel, which is the only all-weather route between the
central and northern parts of the country, suffers from massive
drainage and ventilation problems, an uneven road surface, and
frequent closures.


DUSHANBE 00000037 002.2 OF 002


Other Cooperation

6. (U) Tajikistan's Main Geology Directorate signed an agreement
with the Iranian Ministry of Industry and Mines to establish
"national centers for earth studies, geomatics, and information
technologies" in Tajikistan, according to media reports. Tajik
Prosecutor-General Bobojon Bobkhonov and Iranian Foreign
Minister Manouchehr Mottaki signed an agreement on extradition
of criminals, although details of the accord have not yet
emerged. The Tajik and Iranian presidents signed a joint
statement on promoting bilateral cooperation, and Ahmadinejad,
during a meeting with the Chairman of Tajikistan's Majlisi
Namoyandagon (lower house of Parliament) agreed to expand
parliamentary cooperation. Ahmadinejad announced that Iran has
ratified a bill to set up cultural centers in 26 countries,
including Tajikistan.

Rahmon Supports Iran's "Right to a Peaceful Nuclear Program"

7. (U) At a joint news conference with Ahmadinejad, Rahmon said
Tajikistan supported "Iran's right to a peaceful nuclear program
at all levels." Ahmadinejad responded that Tehran's ties to
Dushanbe were "strategic, profound, consolidated, and durable."
According to official state statistics, trade turnover between
the two countries totaled $115 million over the first 11 months
of 2009. The majority of this was Tajik imports from Iran,
including building materials, foodstuffs, electricity equipment,
household appliances, and agricultural products (ref C).

...While Ahmadinejad Lashes Out at "Bullying Powers," U.S.

8. (U) Ahmadinejad used the occasion of a visit to Iranian
residents of Dushanbe to deliver the usual screed against
outside intervention in Iran's affairs, saying Iran would "under
no circumstances give up even one iota of its legitimate
rights." He said the era of colonialism was over, although
others continued to try to trample Iran's rights. Iran was
leading the way, however. "The name of the Islamic Republic of
Iran manifests culture, arts and justice in the world while the
name of the U.S. demonstrates torture, looting, killing, and
crimes for world public opinion." Tajikistan and Iran were on
the same side of this battle, he said, sharing a culture and
values. Note: Tajik Minister of Culture Mirzoshokhura Asrori
canceled an unofficial trip to Israel to attend the Congress of
Bukharan Jews, which took place on January 5 in Tel Aviv.
Organizers in Israel speculated that he could not afford to be
seen going to Israel during Ahmadinejad's visit.

9. (SBU) Comment: Despite their (partly) shared cultural and
linguistic heritage, Iranian and Tajik leaders often view each
other with more distrust than bonhomie (ref C). Ahmadinejad's
visit does little to change this impression. The agreements
signed by the two countries either tread old ground (Anzob
tunnel), are preliminary (Ayni hydropower station), or have
little substance (the rest of them). Rahmon's endorsement of
Iran's pursuit of "peaceful" nuclear power contrasts with
Tajikistan's efforts to court support from anyone who will give
it, including the United States and even Israel. Against this
backdrop, such statements remind us that talk is cheap. End
comment.
GROSS

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