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US, Turkmenistan advance co-operation in security, counterterrorism

By Dzhumaguly Annayev

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Combating terrorism and cross-border crime has become a major arena of co-operation between Turkmenistan and the United States. [Turkmen Defence Ministry]

ASHGABAT -- Turkmenistan and the United State are working on new areas of co-operation, including combatting terrorism, border security and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), officials say.

A US Central Command (CENTCOM) delegation led by David Mount met in Ashgabat in late January with officials from Turkmenistan's state customs service, the customs office said on its website.

CENTCOM is planning a one-week programme to exchange experience in the fight against CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons), the statement said.

While the United States and Turkmenistan have co-operated on humanitarian matters and in industries such as agriculture, transportation and trade, they are now finding common ground and demonstrating mutual interest in issues related to security, according to Turkmen officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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New US Ambassador to Turkmenistan Matthew S. Klimow visits the Turkmenbashy Ruhy Mosque in Gypjak last June 27. [US Embassy in Turkmenistan]

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo poses with Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Chingiz Aidarbekov, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov, Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin and Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov during a meeting of the C5+1 in Tashkent on February 3. [Kevin Lamarque/AFP]

In addition to combating terrorism, improving border security and fighting the proliferation of WMDs, the two countries are seeking to co-operate on major energy-related investment projects and in helping achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan, Turkmenistan's neighbour, the officials said.

'Pragmatic conversation' in Ashgabat

Aganiyaz M., an official at the state customs service, extolled the significance of the discussions in January.

"The Americans told us about the CENTCOM programme and shared their experience in fighting the spread of different types of WMDs," said Aganiyaz, who did not want to reveal his full name. "There was a pragmatic conversation and fruitful exchange of ideas."

Turkmenistan shares a 744km border with restive Afghanistan and a 990km border with unpredictable Iran.

Ashgabat counts on assistance from the United States and other countries in confronting threats and challenges that originate in the neighbouring states to its south, added Aganiyaz.

Turkmenistan is an independent state whose neutral status has been confirmed by a corresponding United Nations resolution, he said.

"But terrorists, radical Islamists, extremists, smugglers and other people with malicious intent do not recognise borders or neutrality," Aganiyaz said.

"That means that we need to take all possible measures to keep ourselves safe and gratefully accept help from other parties," he added.

A growing relationship

Turkmenistan has benefitted from its growing relationship with the United States in several areas, including defence and energy.

The "entire fleet of aircraft and nearly all the grain-harvesting and earth-moving equipment in Turkmenistan was purchased in the United States", said a Turkmen Finance and Economy Ministry official.

The official, who requested anonymity, didn't know how much Turkmenistan spent on this equipment, but he could verify that the country has been purchasing American equipment for two decades.

Unlike China, Iran and Russia, the United States is supporting Turkmenistan in the diversification of its gas pipelines, he said.

"Of course, it's challenging now, but we're counting on the fact that these joint efforts will ultimately lead to the implementation of projects to build gas pipelines through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India, and under the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan, Turkey and Europe," the Finance Ministry official said.

"The co-operation between our countries began to take on a new dimension in 2019, when Matthew S. Klimow ... was appointed US ambassador to Turkmenistan," said a spokesman for Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry, who also requested anonymity.

At hearings before the US Senate last March, Klimow described his major priorities in his new position.

He underscored the geopolitical significance of Turkmenistan, which has long borders with Afghanistan and Iran and possesses some of the largest natural-gas reserves in the world.

"We have an opportunity to act as a counterweight and positive alternative to Russia and China's unrelenting push to further their economic and political objectives at the expense of the Turkmen people," Klimow said at the hearing.

"[Klimow] has begun to back up his words with actions," the Foreign Ministry spokesman added, pointing to new lines of co-operation between Turkmenistan and the United States.

Special value of the 'C5+1' meetings

Meanwhile, Turkmenistan is also pinning its hopes on the C5+1 meetings between the foreign ministers of the Central Asian countries and the US secretary of state.

C5+1 is a format for dialogue and a platform for joint efforts to address common challenges faced by the United States and the five Central Asian states, according to the US State Department.

The latest C5+1 conference took place Monday (February 3) in Tashkent.

On January 24 President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov noted the significance of C5+1 for the "realisation of existing potential to reinforce and expand the co-operation between the Central Asian countries and the United States", reported the Turkmenistan State News Agency (TDH).

The Foreign Ministry spokesman also underscored the magnitude of the C5+1 meetings.

The meeting in Tashkent was important because the parties discussed "issues that concern Turkmenistan: the economy, the diversification of energy resources, fighting dangerous threats and challenges that face us today, and settling the situation in Afghanistan", he said.

On Wednesday (February 5), the US embassy in Kazakhstan published the six governments' joint statement on the just-concluded Tashkent meeting. It listed a number of their shared concerns, including "the threats posed by foreign terrorist fighters", "cross-border threats such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, illegal migration, human trafficking and drug trafficking", and "the peace process and political settlement of the situation in Afghanistan".

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