July 08, 2010
Turkmenistan-Iran Foreign Relations
In July 2008, the Turkmen foreign minister, Rasit Meredow, said that his country supports Iran’s peaceful nuclear research program. Furthermore, during a conference in 2007, the five states bordering the Caspian Sea—Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan—declared that they would all support one another’s rights to peaceful nuclear programs: "the parties confirm the inalienable right of all state-signatories to the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons to develop research and the production and utilization of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and within the framework of the provisions spelt out in this treaty, as well as those of the International Atomic Energy Agency mechanism."
On June 24, 2010, two months after a similar meeting in Tehran, Turkmenistan hosted a conference on disarmament in the Central Asian and Caspian Sea region. According to Iran’s Fars News Agency, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki claimed that the conferences demonstrate “that Iran and Turkmenistan are well determined to focus on demilitarization of the world and the region.”
Iran and Turkmenistan are neighbors and enjoy strong and diverse trade. Much of Iran’s exports to Turkmenistan consist of foodstuffs, healthcare equipment, automobiles, and advanced technological goods. Hydrocarbons also extensively factor into bilateral economic interaction and, in December 2008, the Islamic Republic agreed to work with Turkmenistan in developing some of the country’s large gas fields. Cooperation in this sector is particularly essential for Turkmenistan, as the country is landlocked. In 2009, Iran was Turkmenistan’s second largest trade partner.  According to a May 2009 statement by the Iranian ambassador to Turkmenistan, Mohammad Reza Forqani, Turkmenistan is Iran’s largest trade partner in Central Asia. In April 2010, an expert for the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran claimed that bilateral trade totaled $3.5 billion in 2009, with exports to Turkmenistan increasing to $3 billion and imports from Turkmenistan valued at $500 million.
During a March 2009 meeting of the ten-nation Economic Cooperation Organization— a Central Asian trade organization founded by Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan— Iran and Turkmenistan discussed free trade and called for the swift completion of a rail line between Kazakhstan and Iran via Turkmenistan.
In April 2009, Iranian Deputy Energy Minister for Water and Wastewater Affairs Mohammadreza Attarzadeh and Turkmen Water Industry Minister Annageldi Yazmyradov met to discuss cooperation on energy and water issues. During the meeting, Yazmyradov called on Iranian companies to increase their participation in agricultural and water projects in his country.
Although Iran and Turkmenistan enjoy extensive cooperation in the field of energy, the two neighbors’ friendly relations were disrupted in March 2009 when Tehran threatened to file a lawsuit against the Turkmen government for cutting off gas supplies to Iran during the winter of 2008-2009, unless Turkmenistan compensated for the loss. Turkmenistan claimed that the suspension was due to technical reasons and not political disagreement.
Legal quarrels notwithstanding, in May 2009, Iran nevertheless agreed to develop Turkmenistan’s Yolotan gas field, located in the eastern part of the country. Furthermore, Turkmenistan announced in July 2009 that Ashgabat and Tehran agreed to expand Turkmenistan’s annual volume of gas exports to Iran from eight billion cubic meters to 20 billion. The increase will be transported via a new pipeline from the Davletabad field to Iran, though the field had previously been reserved exclusively for deliveries to Russia. In October 2009, Iranian Oil Minister Massoud Mir Kazemi announced that his country will increase its import of Turkmen natural gas to 33 million cubic meters daily beginning in mid-December 2009. Chief Executive of the National Iranian Gas Company Javad Ouji subsequently claimed, in June 2010, that Iranian gas imports from Turkmenistan will reach 40 million cubic meters per day by January 2011.
During his trip to Ashgabat in January 2010, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated a gas pipeline project designed to import Turkmen gas to Iran. The 31km pipeline will deliver Turkmen gas from the Davletabad field to Sarakhs, an Iranian border town, enabling Iran to free up its own gas for export to the international market. Annamammad Mammadov, the Turkmen ambassador to Azerbaijan, said the Iran-Turkmenistan pipeline was indicative of his country's policy of energy diversity. Speaking for the Iranian side, President Ahmadinejad said that the new gas pipeline and Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan railway project, which he also visited, will cause a major change in regional energy and trade ties. The Iranian president claims that the pipeline will play a key role in energy exchange with Europe and the Persian Gulf region. Importantly, both countries are possible future participants in the Nabucco pipeline project, which would transport gas from the region to European markets.
Ambassador Forqani announced in February 2010 that Iranian experts will be used to construct the planned railway linking Iran, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. According to the Iranian envoy, "during the recent visit to Turkmenistan by the president of the Islamic Republic, the construction project of Atrak-Barakat-Gorgan was approved and the construction operation will be started by Iranian experts soon.” Forqani also noted that the project is valued at $700 million and will come online in 2012. According to reports by Iran’s Fars News Agency, the railroad will initially be able to transport three to five million tons of freight annually, with capacity being increased to between 10 and 20 million tons upon completion of all phases of the project.
On April 13, 2010, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and his Turkmen counterpart, Rasit Meredow, hosted the tenth meeting of their countries’ joint economic commission. While Mottaki stressed the importance of hydrocarbons in the two’s bilateral economic relations, Meredow lauded positive Iran-Turkmenistan interaction in economic, political, and international spheres. The Turkmen foreign minister’s words aside, later that month Iranian Ambassador to Turkmenistan Mohammad Mousa Hashemi Golpayegani (who replaced Forqani in March 2010) expressed dissatisfaction with the current pace of economic interaction between the two, saying that the "$3.5 billion volume of trade exchanges between Iran and Turkmenistan is not so large, considering the existence of huge capacities in the two countries and we can increase the amount to $10 billion through further and joint utilization of the existing potentials."
In July 2008, Turkmen Foreign Minister Rasit Meredow said that relations with Iran were friendly and praised Iran for its peaceful nuclear research. Turkmenistan and Iran enjoy substantial international cooperation, agreeing in June 2007 to set up a joint commission to combat drug trafficking from Afghanistan. The two countries also participate in summits and groups relating to the Caspian Sea and have used these forums for multilateral cooperation. Both have stated that rights to the Caspian Sea’s resources should be redistributed into five equal parts between the littoral states. Furthermore, Iran and Turkmenistan pledged, in a joint declaration in 2007, that they "under no circumstances will allow the use of their territories by other states for an aggression or other military actions against any of the parties." In an April 2009 meeting, Iranian Ambassador to Turkmenistan Mohammad Reza Forqani indicated that Iran is willing to help supply Turkmen needs in the field of defense; Turkmen Minister of Defense Yaylim Berdiyev has similarly argued in favor of increasing bilateral cooperation.
During February 2010 celebrations of the 31st anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ambassador Forgani stated that Iran “attaches great importance to friendly, brotherly Turkmenistan" in its foreign relations and that "our bilateral relations are exemplary among regional countries.” Forgani added that the two countries have signed over 160 bilateral documents on cooperation in the past, and that "there has been significant success in strengthening economic cooperation, including cooperation in the energy, oil and gas industry, and the transit of electricity in the area of transport and industry.
In February 2010, Tehran and Ashgabat agreed to expand diplomatic and consular interaction, with Ambassador Forqani announcing that Iran will establish a consular office in the Turkmen city Turkmenbashi. In return, Turkmenistan plans to open a consulate in Iran’s Golestan province. The ambassador added that “given the close and good relations between the two countries, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has proposed that visa requirements be lifted by the two sides.” Notably, in May 2010, neighboring Tajikistan rejected a similar Iranian proposal that had called for the establishment of a visa-free regime between the two countries.
The two countries have also discussed increasing bilateral cooperation in media affairs. During a June 7, 2010 interview with Iran’s Fars News Agency, Special Advisor to the Head of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization of Iran Mahmoud Vaezi highlighted the importance of interaction between Iranian and Turkmen mass media, saying that "the two countries' media cooperation and cultural consultations are indeed complementary and act as organs of a single body." Vaezi called for further media collaboration, lamenting that current “interaction does not match the all-out ties and cooperation between Turkmenistan and Iran [in other fields]."
Turkmenistan was caught in the middle of a diplomatic kerfuffle between Iran and Uzbekistan when, in June 2010, the Iranian state railroad company threatened to halt all Turkmen rail freight transiting the Islamic Republic en route to Uzbekistan, unless Tashkent allows rail cars bound for Tajikistan to pass through its territory without delay.
In July 2010, Deputy Ambassador to Turkmenistan Zolfaqar Amirshahi, stressed the positive direction of bilateral relations over the previous three years, noting that, in 2009 alone, President Ahmadinejad twice traveled to Turkmenistan, while some 70 delegations visited the country. The deputy ambassador added that these visits, along with five recently penned cooperation agreements, demonstrate “the two countries' strong will for expanding and developing their bilateral, regional and trans-regional ties as well as their all-out convergence over the Caspian Sea and the Central Asian issues.”