Turkmenistan - Foreign policy

Niyazov has stated that his country's neutrality in world affairs prevents it from heavily participating in multinational defense organizations, rather it permits bilateral military assistance. During Niyazov's May 1995 visit to Moscow, he and President Yeltsin signed agreements on air defense, military transport, Russian use of Turkmen military facilities, and others they typified as creating a "strategic partnership." Actual cooperation, however, has been minimal. In early 1995, Turkmenistan became the first Central Asian state to join North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) Partnership for Peace (PFP), calling for aid in officer training. In keeping with the neutrality policy, however, Turkmen troops have merely "observed" PFP military exercises. Turkmen armed forces have numbered 17,000–19,000, including ground, air, and air defense forces. Niyazov has emphasized replacing the higher officer corps with ethnic Turkmen and has replaced almost all lower echelon officers from Russia. Turkmen are receiving officer's training in Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey. In 1993, Russia and Turkmenistan agreed that Russian border guards would work with Turkmen border guards under Turkmen command at borders with Iran and Afghanistan. In 1999, Niyazov canceled this agreement, and the last of Russia's 1,000 border troops in Turkmenistan left in late 1999.

Niyazov supports some of Russia's policies in the region while endeavoring, where possible, to resist, contravene, or reduce Russian influence. Russian military and border troops assisted Turkmenistan until it built up its own forces and Russia's presence has been used to counter Uzbek policies in the region. In 1992, Turkmenistan and Russia signed a Friendship and Cooperation Treaty that contained security provisions. In 1993, Turkmenistan was the only former Soviet republic to agree to Russian demands for dual citizenship for the relatively small number of ethnic Russians residing in Turkmenistan, to assuage Russian criticism of Turkmen nationality policy and to encourage skilled ethnic Russians to remain; this privilege was revoked in April 2003. Russia objects to Turkmen efforts to reduce dependence on existing natural gas export routes that transit Russia. Turkmenistan, at first, supported Russia's and Iran's demands that Caspian Sea resources be exploited in line with Soviet-era treaties, but Niyazov in September 1999 decreed control over navigation, fishing, and resources within a national sector.

President Niyazov has resisted proposals by Kazakhstan and Russia to strengthen the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and has refused to sign several CIS agreements viewed as violating Turkmen sovereignty. In 1992, Niyazov "initialed" a CIS collective security arrangement, but then refused to participate in CIS "peacekeeping" in Tajikistan. After Kyrgyzstan joined Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Russia in a "deeper integration" customs union in 1996, Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry noted that it rejected "entry into rigid supranational structures." Instead, Niyazov has stressed the establishment of bilateral ties with CIS. Relations with Uzbekistan have been tense, with both states vying for regional influence and arguing over borders and water sharing. Uzbekistan has criticized Turkmenistan's ties with Iran as threatening the region's independence.

Turkmenistan's "neutral" foreign policy is enshrined in its Constitution. Niyazov has declared that Turkmenistan's "open door" or "permanent neutrality" policy precludes joining political or military alliances and entails good relations with the East and the West, though priority will be placed on relations with Central Asian and other Islamic states. Turkmenistan joined the Non-Aligned Movement in 1995, and the United Nations General Assembly in 1995 recognized Turkmenistan's status as a neutral state. Turkmenistan has pursued close ties with both Iran and Turkey. In addition to growing trade ties with Iran, Turkmenistan is also interested in cultural ties with the approximately one million Turkmen residing in Iran. Turkey is the largest foreign investor in Turkmenistan and has far surpassed Russia in trade turnover with Turkmenistan.

In the past Turkmenistan has been generally supportive of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan. The government, however, was generally supportive of the U.S. initiated attacks in Afghanistan against the Taliban regime and al-Qaeda, the Islamist militant group responsible for the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center in the United States. The Turkmenistan government has worked closely with the United States in providing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. On a state visit to Iran in early March 2003, however, Niyazov condemned the looming U.S.-led war in Iraq, which began on 19 March. "We are against a war, because it brings devastation to countries and mass destruction to the peaceful population," he stated.

Turkmenistan is a member of United Nations (UN), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Islamic Development Bank, and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

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