Turkmenistan is beginning to open up and build up relationships with other countries, but NBCentralAsia experts say the diplomats in charge of projecting the country’s image are holding back the process.
Delegations from the Georgian parliament, Iran’s foreign ministry and the Tatarstan government all visited Ashgabat on June 5 and 6.
Two days before that, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov held talks with officials from China and Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliev. He and Aliev agreed to meet again at the forthcoming unofficial summit Commonwealth of Independent States in St Petersburg on June 10.
All of these meetings were to establish high-level contacts as a basis for future cooperation, and NBCentralAsia observers say Berdymuhammedov is ready to start making Turkmen foreign policy more “normal”.
The late president Saparmurat Niazov, who died suddenly in December, isolated Turkmenistan by strictly adhering to a policy of neutrality and refusal to cooperate on international relations.
Vyacheslav Mamedov, leader of the Civil Democratic Union of Turkmenistan, an émigré group, says the Turkmen authorities have a long way to go to adapt to the modern system of international relations. But he says the president’s willingness to engage with other countries is encouraging.
An NBCentralAsia observer based in Ashgabat believes Berdymuhammedov wants to build up foreign contacts to attract economic investment and take Turkmen energy resources to world markets. Niazov’s policies led to “stagnation” over the last ten years, and will be hard to overcome this without foreign help, he said.
But Mamedov notes that the attempt to gain international recognition has not yet involved replacing officials appointed by Niazov.
Mamedov said Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov’s “reputation as a militant Turkmenbashi-ist is an obstacle to his appearance in the international arena as the first minister of a free Turkmenistan,” he said.
Meredov was made foreign minister by Niazov in 2001 and managed to stay in office despite frequent cabinet reshuffles.
Mars Sariev, a political analyst who used to be a Kyrgyz diplomat in Ashgabat, says staffing changes are needed in the Turkmen foreign ministry because its diplomats are a link to the outside world and are responsible for projecting an image of the government.
“Without bringing in experienced people who were persecuted under Niazov, the republic won’t recover from the damage caused by the isolationism policy any time soon,” he said.
Observers say Turkmenistan will only transform its international image once the old system is deconstructed and the foreign ministry no longer plays the dual roles of international protector of the regime and filtering system for unwelcome visitors.
News Briefing Central Asia http://www.iwpr.net/?apc_state=hrubbtm336197&l=en&s=b&p=btm&o=336197