After the Russian Federation, Turkmenistan has established its closest relations with Iran, especially on issues of joint concern within the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO--see Glossary), but also on issues of border security, transport cooperation, cultural exchange, and business ventures. In 1993 the two countries signed a joint statement emphasizing territorial sovereignty and non-interference in Tajikistan. At the same time, Turkmenistan's diplomats conveyed concern over the controversial agreement between Iran and Russia to build a nuclear power plant near the Caspian Sea and the Turkmenistan border.
In January 1994, Niyazov made an official visit to Tehran, and the two countries held a second round of talks in Ashgabat in June to create an intergovernmental center for consultation and coordination on socioeconomic questions. According to bilateral agreements, Iranian specialists will aid in renovating the Turkmenbashy Oil Refinery and the Mary Cotton Processing Plant, building the Turkmenistan-Iran-Europe Gas Pipeline, and constructing the Ashgabat-Tehran, Mary- Mashhad-Turkmenbashy, and Gudurol-Gorgan highways. In January 1996, Niyazov signed agreements with Iran linking the two countries' electric power networks, a joint dam on the Hari River, and cooperation in oil, gas, and agriculture. A joint statement expressed concern about Azerbaijan's exploitation of Caspian Sea resources, although Turkmenistan generally has sided with Azerbaijan and Kazakstan, and against Iran and Russia, on resource rights in the Caspian.
Contrary to initial expectations that Turkey would play a "big brother" role in Turkmenistan's social and cultural development following independence, Turkmenistan charts its own course in such matters. An example is the adoption of a Latin script that owes little if anything to that used for Turkish. However, Turkey has played a prominent role in the development of Turkmenistan's economic potential. Turkish firms are constructing US$1 billion worth of enterprises, stores, and hotels in Turkmenistan. The Turkish Development and Cooperation Agency manages a slate of projects in agriculture, civil aviation, education, health care, minerals extraction, reconstruction of infrastructure, initiation of small enterprises, and construction of a complex of mosques and religious schools. Turkish high schools and universities are hosting more than 2,000 Turkmenistani students, and, in 1994, Turkey began daily four-hour television broadcasts to the republic.
Because of continuing fragmentation of political power in neighboring Afghanistan and concern that civil strife in that country could threaten the security of its borders, Turkmenistan's government pursued direct agreements with the northern Afghan leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek. With the support of Uzbekistan's Karimov regime, Dostum had carved out an Uzbek domain controlling 600 of the 850 kilometers along the Afghan-Turkmen border. In July 1993, President Niyazov discussed border security with officials from northern Afghanistan, resulting in the establishment of consulates in the Afghan cities of Mazari Sharif and Herat. Talks in 1994 focused on building a railroad link and supplying electricity to Herat. A direct telephone communications line was completed connecting Ashgabat and Mary with Herat.
Besides initiatives taken under the aegis of the ECO, Turkmenistan signed a cooperation agreement with Pakistan in late 1991 and obtained a promise of US$10 million in credit and goods from Pakistan in 1992. The two countries signed memoranda in 1995 for the construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. The Bridas company of Argentina was engaged to do a feasibility study for the pipeline.
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