TURKMENISTAN: Neutrality and transport in Eurasia Interview with His Excellency Ambassador Atageldi Haljanov

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Q: Could you tell us something about your country?
Turkmenistan – the neutral, democratic, legal, secular and dynamically developing state in the Central Asian region –– is a land with a unique landscape, rich natural resources, numerous historical monuments, a multinational population and age-old cultural traditions.
Abundant natural resources and an advantageous geo-economic location have resulted in the development of the country’s diversified production potential. Enormous reserves of raw materials are available beneath the Turkmen land. Turkmenistan has the fourth largest natural gas reserves in the world. The country is not limited to the production or export of energy resources, but is also home to high-performance enterprises using innovative technologies to cater to the modern market. Industry is a basic component of economic growth. The concentrated supply of raw materials has led to the setting up of an industrial sector in Turkmenistan based on the fuel and energy sector. In fact, the country’s entire territory as well as the adjacent off-shore areas of the Caspian Sea are of interest in the exploration for oil and gas.

Q: The twentieth anniversary of Turkmenistan’s neutrality has just being celebrated. Why was it so important for your country to be neutral?

Indeed, in 2015 we celebrate a grand occasion: the twentieth anniversary since the world community recognized the legal status of Turkmenistan’s permanent neutrality according to a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. Furthermore, by a national resolution of the Elders Council of Turkmenistan, 2015 has been declared the Year of Neutrality and Peace.
This year is really a meaningful date for our people –– an important event in the independent history of the Turkmen state. It is also a good occasion to review progress over the recent past, to sum up the results, to take stock of Turkmenistan’s present stage of development, and to make plans and set priorities for the future. This year we will proceed together with our friends and partners from different countries of the world –– whose opinions we value.
Concerning the importance of Turkmenistan as a neutral country, it should be noted that any country that has taken the road towards independence is forced to address a range of challenges in a very short space of time, to assume its place among new realities and to respond to objective issues with which history confronts it. Turkmenistan, which gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union and experienced the destruction of the entire post-war system of international relations, has not been able to avoid being faced with these circumstances. Therefore, at the moment of its independence the challenge of choosing a strategy for its foreign policy became a most crucial and difficult matter. What should our foreign policy be? What kind of relationships should we establish with the international community? And on what principles should cooperation be based? The fate of Turkmen statehood and sovereignty depended to a large extent on the finesse of our choices.
Turkmenistan has chosen a model called positive neutrality and has formulated its fundamental principles: peacefulness; non-interference in the affairs of other nations; respect for their sovereignty and territorial integrity; and non-participation in international military organizations and treaties. Of course, first and foremost, Turkmenistan was guided by national self-interest. The young Turkmen state wanted to exist in peace and harmony with its neighbours, to maintain friendly and fair relations with all countries, and to develop mutually beneficial economic contacts with them. We firmly believed that it was only under these conditions that we could guarantee peace and unity for our people, while advancing our economic and social development plans.
Neutrality became the best model for implementing these plans and goals, allowing Turkmenistan’s foreign policy to be constructed in a harmonious and natural way. Thus, we started to pursue a consistently sovereign, neutral and, at the same time, active and constructive foreign policy. It is not surprising that our efforts to secure Turkmenistan’s neutrality as an international legal entity met with non-threatening attitudes and understanding from other countries. At first, we received support from our neighbours in the region, and then from the non-aligned movement. On 12 December 1995 the General Assembly of the United Nations unanimously adopted the Resolution on the Permanent Neutrality of Turkmenistan. It is significant that twenty-five states co-sponsored this resolution. Today, on the eve of its twentieth anniversary, I would like to express once again our profound gratitude to the countries-co-sponsors of the Resolution, and to all members of the international community, international organizations, statesmen and politicians for supporting Turkmenistan in this venture.

Q. What are the current priorities of Turkmenistan’s foreign policy?

Peace, security and development –– these are the key priorities of Turkmenistan’s foreign policy, corresponding to the global targets of the world community. This also reflects the growing cooperation between Turkmenistan and the United Nations, resulting in its participation in the key structures of this, the largest international organization. The foreign policy of neutral Turkmenistan allows the country not only to play an active role in geopolitical and geo-economic processes, but also serves as their catalyst, promoting the creation of a new architecture for a global world order.
Turkmenistan’s neutrality serves as a mechanism for combining geopolitical interests in a constructive manner, an important factor in guaranteeing regional stability and the establishment of a civilized dialogue. This has been shown by Turkmenistan’s international initiatives put forward during the sixty-ninth session of the UN General Assembly on the protection and strengthening of universal peace and security, cooperation in the energy and transport sectors, on humanitarian issues and human rights, ecology and environmental protection. These in particular were the basic ideas behind the foundation of a Sub-Regional UN Disarmament Centre in Asia and the conduct of a Security and Peace Forum in Central Asia, which Turkmenistan proposes to hold in Ashgabat during 2015.
The national interests of Turkmenistan include the complex of interests covering the individual, the society and the state in various spheres brought about by its particular geographical milieu and which are a fundamental basis for its internal and foreign policy interests and priorities. The particular interests of our country in the international sphere consist of protecting our sovereignty and consolidating Turkmenistan’s position in the international arena; also the development of equal and mutually beneficial relations with all countries, as well as with international organizations.
Thus, it should especially be noted that the terms “national interests”, “foreign policy interests and priorities” are in a direct relationship because without the definition of the first concept it is impossible to formulate the second. The national interests of Turkmenistan define not only the current focus of the state’s domestic and foreign policy, but also its strategic objectives. It stands to reason that there are national, regional and wider international interests at the heart of Turkmenistan’s balanced foreign policy developed by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

Q. There has been talk of new roads and railways, as well as general economic development throughout Central Asia. Could you tell what Turkmenistan’s role is?

Railways and highways are important structures in the international transport network. In Turkmenistan today, in order to favour transport and transit corridors, exceptional engineering works are under way creating new infrastructures for the transport sector. These projects are also important steps in laying the groundwork for regional and interregional transport routes passing through Central Asia and the Caucasus. Active implementation of investment programmes for the transport sector will link our country into a unique economic infrastructure.
On 4 September 2014, the heads of international organizations, together with the President of Turkmenistan, took part in an international forum to celebrate the opening of a new customs terminal, a large bus station and the beginning of a new highway linking the city of Turkmenabat on the border with Uzbekistan with Turkmenbashi on the Caspian Sea.
In accordance with the President’s initiatives for the development of Turkmenistan’s merchant fleet and the accompanying infrastructures, a key component has been the construction of an international seaport at Turkmenbashi, which began in August 2013. This new seaport on the Caspian Sea coast will become the most important link in a modern marine transport system. It will serve to create a new level of trade and economic cooperation between the countries of Asia and Europe. With the prospect opening up of interregional and intercontinental communications, there are huge opportunities for stepping up the flow of transport in the Eurasian region.
Regarding the development of the international transport infrastructure, Turkmenistan has always emphasized the need for closer cooperation and partnership with the specialized structures of the UN, particularly with the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). In this context, Turkmenistan is ready to discuss the possibilities for creating a Modal Highway Initiative for Central Asia giving access to Turkey, with the participation of the International Road Transport Union (IRU), UNECE and ESCAP. The IRU’s initiative in favour of the above-mentioned highway corresponds exactly to our vision of developing new transport routes in the region.
At the International Conference which took place in Ashgabat on 3–4 September 2014, President Berdimuhamedov stated that Turkmenistan is also ready to play its role in the TRACECA Programme (Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia) in the belief that the creation of the Western Transport Corridor from Central Asia will have a huge impact in the context of the proposed revival of the Great Silk Road and connecting the world’s two economic poles of Europe and Asia on qualitatively new criteria.
As the President emphasized, the cornerstone of Turkmenistan’s policy of international cooperation in the Central Asia and Caspian Basin regions envisages a strong link with strategic stability in the southern belt of Eurasia, and the prospect of becoming an economic partner for the European and Asian countries through the existence of a large transport network of continental dimensions. A whole range of new opportunities are opening up, in particular for interaction and development, leading to an improvement in people’s living standards and the successful integration of the region without the risks of conflict and confrontations. This, in its turn, will make the region attractive to external investments and long-term international programmes in many different spheres. While initiating large-scale projects in the transport sector, Turkmenistan is making an enormous contribution to the architecture of a new geo-economic cooperative space that meets modern standards according to current global trends.
These initiatives have found increasing understanding and support in the world. The evidence for this is the recent high-level International Conference in Ashgabat attended by heads of international organizations, in particular: Shun-ichi Murata, Deputy Executive Secretary of ESCAP; Lamberto Zannier, Secretary-General of OSCE; Janusz Lacny, President of the IRU; as well as Umberto De Pretto, Secretary-General of the IRU; Eduard Biriucov, Secretary-General of TRACECA; Shamil Aleskerov, Secretary-General of ECO; and Christian Friis Bach, Executive Secretary of UNECE.
A recent quadripartite meeting also took place in Ashgabat concerning the creation of an Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Oman transport corridor. As you may already know, an intergovernmental agreement concerning the creation of a transport and transit corridor “Central Asia–the Middle East” was signed on 25 April 2011 in Ashgabat upon the initiative of the President of Turkmenistan. This large-scale project is expected not only to promote mutually beneficial trade and economic cooperation between the countries of Central Asia and the Middle East, but it will also have an impact by providing sustainable development on a regional and international scale. The practical implementation of this project featured on the agenda of a quadripartite meeting of foreign ministers held in August 2014 in Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman, and was devoted to the creation of this Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Oman transport corridor. Following the results of negotiations, a Memorandum of Understanding was approved and signed. The Ashgabat forum has permitted an exchange views on a number of issues regarding the implementation of this project and ensuring the proper functioning of a new transport corridor.
The programme of the Conference’s first day also included a quadripartite meeting on constructing an Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia transport corridor. This project would provide new opportunities for member countries and other states of the region to reach world markets, at the same time as promoting broader trade and economic relations in the Eurasian region. Certainly, this project would also promote the social and economic revival of Afghanistan by connecting it to large regional and international infrastructural projects, such as TRACECA. It would connect these neighbouring countries into a global system of economic communications. In keeping with its peace-keeping policy, neutral Turkmenistan is invariably a supporter of diversification of transport routes as a key element in the development of widespread international cooperation.
Today, Turkmenistan acts as a vital link in the formation of a new regional and interregional transport and communication infrastructure, the existence of which is one of the major factors in global social and economic progress. This has been clearly demonstrated by the project to construct a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway line, which has also been initiated by Turkmenistan and would be implemented jointly with the partner states. Together with the project to create an Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia transport corridor, it would revolutionize the transit and transport capacity of the region in particular and of the Eurasian continent in general, thus ensuring widespread well-being and prosperity.
Following the results of a forum, a number of documents have been signed, such as the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Turkmenistan and the International Road Transport Union (IRU) on the development of the Eurasian motor transportation network within the territory of Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan has also signed the “Joint Declaration on the Promotion of the Eurasian Rail Transport and Activities towards Unified Railway Regulations” and the “Joint Statement on the Future Development of Eurasian Transport Links” agreed in Geneva in February 2013.
At the end of the high-level international conference on “The Role of Transit and Transport Corridors in Ensuring International Cooperation and Sustainable Development”, the Ashgabat Declaration was adopted “On the Role of Transport and Transit Corridors in Ensuring International Cooperation, Stability and a Sustainable Development”. As a result, in December 2014 and upon the initiative of Turkmenistan, delegates in the Second Committee of the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on “The Role of Transport and Transit Corridors in Ensuring International Cooperation for Sustainable Development”. It is important to emphasize that for the first time the issue of cooperation in the transport sphere was reflected in a document of the General Assembly. This resolution consolidates the initiative on the creation of a global partnership for sustainable transport. The key elements of the Ashgabat Declaration adopted in September 2014, providing for an integrated approach to the development of transport and transit communications, are reflected in the provisions of the United Nations resolution. The document lays the foundation for creating international transport networks combining road, railway, maritime and air routes by means of intermodal logistic centres and overland freight terminals. The resolution also provides for the mobilization of financial and technical resources from the international monetary institutions.
The document contains an appeal to the Secretary-General, in consultation with member countries of the UN and the relevant institutions of the UN system, to prepare a report for the seventieth session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 on ways of expanding international cooperation in this sphere. The resolution was co-sponsored by sixty-six countries, including all the countries of Central Asia, and a considerable number of countries from the Asia-Pacific, European, Latin American and African regions, in particular landlocked countries. The document was supported by all UN member states and accepted by consensus.
Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the editorial staff of the Diva International Diplomat magazine for the interest shown in our country of Turkmenistan, and also for the work of editing and publishing the articles covering international subjects, economy, culture, education and the humanitarian sphere, and particularly those articles devoted to the activities of the diplomatic corps accredited to the international organizations in Geneva.