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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06ASHGABAT43
2006-01-13 13:39:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Ashgabat
Cable title:  

DAS BRYZA MEETING WITH FM MEREDOV

Tags:   ECON  ENRG  EPET  KIRF  PHUM  PREL  SCUL  TX 
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VZCZCXRO1322
RR RUEHDBU
DE RUEHAH #0043/01 0131339
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 131339Z JAN 06
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6858
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ASHGABAT 000043 

SIPDIS

SECSTATE FOR EUR/CACEN (PERRY) AND SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/13/2016
TAGS: ECON ENRG EPET KIRF PHUM PREL SCUL TX
SUBJECT: DAS BRYZA MEETING WITH FM MEREDOV

Classified By: AMBASSADOR TRACEY JACOBSON FOR REASONS (1.4 B, D).

-------
SUMMARY
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1. (C) On January 13, following a meeting with President
Niyazov (septel) Foreign Minister Rashit Meredov hosted a
working lunch for visiting DAS Matthew Bryza and Ambassador
Jacobson. During the lunch, Bryza pressed for concrete
progress on religious freedom and academic exchanges for
Turkmenistani students. DAS Bryza also solicited Meredov's
ideas on specific ways Turkmenistan might contribute to
Europe,s efforts to diversify its gas supplies, perhaps
including through a proposed Trans-Caspian Pipeline. Meredov
expressed great interest in cooperating with the U.S. to
develop a trans-Caspian gas pipeline and suggested forming a
bilateral working group. DAS Bryza cautioned that assembling
of the elements of a trans-Caspian pipeline would require a
level of cooperation between the U.S. and Turkmenistan that
would be difficult to achieve without progress on all three
of our sets of interests: freedom through reform, security,
and energy/regional economic cooperation. END SUMMARY.




--------------------------


ENERGY ISSUES


--------------------------





2. (C) After discussing lingering problems on education and
religious freedom (see below), DAS Bryza said that the U.S.
and its European partners were now more actively seeking ways
to help Europe diversify energy supplies, especially natural
gas. Turkmenistan could play an important role, especially
given President Niyazov,s statement earlier in the day
(SEPTEL) that he would inform his Russian interlocutors
during his upcoming trip to Moscow that Turkmenistan will not
sell all its gas to one buyer (read Gazprom). DAS Bryza
asked Meredov and Ahmed Calik (who also attended the lunch at
Meredov's invitation and who is CEO of Calik Holding, a major
player in Turkmenistan's economy) what they thought were the
necessary steps needed to attract investors to a possible
trans-Caspian gas pipeline. Calik suggested Calik Energy was
interested in leading a consortium of investors in such a
pipeline. To succeed, such a consortium would need
participation by a U.S. company and OPIC. He stressed the
importance of &showing the U.S. flag8 to help mitigate
political risk associated with the project, especially in
light of expected arguments from Russia that a trans-Caspian
gas pipeline could/should not be built due to environmental
concerns and the lack of delineation of national boundaries
in the Caspian Sea. Calik was confident the project could be
commercial, given the higher prices for natural gas now
prevailing in Europe in comparison with the late 90,s.



3. (C) DAS Bryza replied that securing OPIC participation in
such a project would require the U.S. and Turkmenistan to

elevate their cooperation on democracy and human rights to
build support throughout the U.S. Government, including in
Congress. DAS Bryza suggested the U.S. might work with the
countries along the prospective transit route and with
consuming countries in Southern Europe to explore the
feasibility of a trans-Caspian pipeline. Calik agreed with
this approach, suggesting that the U.S. and Turkmenistan
build on their previous experience exploring such a project
during the late 1990,s. Foreign Minister Meredov echoed
President Niayzov,s suggestion from earlier in the day that
the U.S. and Turkmenistan form a working group on energy
security to explore this project, as well as possible exports
of Turkmenistani electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan.



--------------------------


OUTSTANDING ISSUE #1: EDUCATION


--------------------------





4. (C) DAS Bryza noted to Meredov that the USG attached high
importance to its educational exchanges with Turkmenistan,
and that he was concerned with the number of problems that
existed. Ambassador said that the Embassy was trying to work
with the Ministry of Education to resolve all outstanding
issues, but the Ministry was unwilling to do so. Ambassador
further noted that there has not been any movement on the
PEAKS exchange program, despite the fact that the embassy
submitted all required documentation to the Ministry of
Education two years ago, and that three educational working
groups have met with no results. The lack of a new Education
Minster also made cooperation difficult. Meredov recognized
these problems, and offered the services of the MFA to
resolve future problems. He hinted that an agreement could
also be reached on the PEAKS program, and offered to discuss
the issue later in January. Ambassador expressed thanks for
the MFA,s offer, but also pressed for better cooperation
with the Ministry of Education, which enjoyed primary

ASHGABAT 00000043 002 OF 003


responsibility for these issues.



5. (C) Ambassador also expressed concerns with the Ministry
of Education's interference with this year's current
recruitment of FLEX participants. The Ministry of
Education's delayed permission to begin recruitment, and its
efforts to allow local officials to sit in on interviews,
have caused significant problems during this year's
recruitment of FLEX participants. Nobody, including
officials of the Turkmenistani and U.S. Governments, has the
right to interfere in the process. Meredov explained that
local teachers knew their students better than others, and
would be in a position to determine whether their students
would be able to be qualified applicants or might face
emotional problems while abroad. In order to ensure that
FLEX recruitment did not interfere with ongoing classes,
Meredov said that this would not be a problem in the future
if the Embassy submitted a proposed schedule of interviews to
the GOTX in August. Ambassador noted embassy routinely did
so, to no avail. Ambassador added that Turkmenistani
participants on exchange programs most often are the best
students in their classes; something that the FM should be
very proud of. FM Meredov reiterated his pledge to work with
the Embassy to resolve these issues.



--------------------------


OUTSTANDING ISSUE #2: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM


--------------------------





6. (C) DAS Bryza underscored to FM Meredov how important
religious freedom was for the United States. While
Turkmenistan was able to avoid CPC designation last year due
to specific steps it had taken, he did not know whether
Turkmenistan would be in the same position this year, absent
concrete progress on ending harassment of religious groups
and several other issues. FM Meredov said that the GOTX has
actively been working with the embassy on religious freedom
issues for over two years now, and that several laws had been
changed allowing for more religious freedom, adding that the
GOTX registered four religious groups in 2004 and five in
2005, and that six Jehovah's Witnesses were granted exemption
from military service. There are currently 119 registered
houses of worship (90 Muslim, 13 Russian Orthodox, and 9
Evangelical/Hare Krishna). The GOTX works very closely with
the embassy on religious freedom issues, as was seen during
the October 2005 roundtable of government agencies and
religious groups to discuss religious freedom issues.



7. (C) Ambassador informed FM Meredov that despite these
steps, problems remained. Recalling the efforts of local
officials in Turkmenabat to denounce local Baptists in a
public display in December, Ambassador reminded Meredov that
such incidents only make the calls to designate Turkmenistan
a CPC stronger. Although the MFA had been helpful in
resolving the December incident in Turkmenabat, local
officials must be made aware that their actions will have
serious consequences.



8. (C) DAS Bryza reiterated the USG,s opposition in
principle to requiring religious groups to register. The
GOTX,s approach to the Roman Catholic Church was
particularly puzzling, given that this was a rather well
known organization, given its 2000-year history. Meredov
replied that the law on religion applied to all religious
organizations. The ball was now in the Catholic Church's
court, which had submitted registration documents to the
Vatican for approval. Once the GOTX received the
registration forms, Meredov promised that the Roman Catholic
Church would be registered. Ambassador suggested that
another positive step would be to allow an official
delegation of Jehovah's Witnesses to visit Turkmenistan and
meet with their co-religionists.



--------------------------


CENTRAL ASIAN REOGRANIZATION INTO SCA


--------------------------





9. (C) Ambassador took the opportunity to inform Meredov of
the Department's plans to move Turkmenistan and other Central
Asian republics from the European Bureau to the South Asian
Bureau in order to create a new South Central Asian Bureau.
This move potentially could provide Turkmenistan more
attention more high-level USG attention and visits (as well
as more scrutiny), as it will be one of 11 countries in its
new bureau, as opposed to one of 55 countries in the EUR
bureau. Meredov welcomed the opportunity to receive more USG
visitors to Turkmenistan.



--------------------------


COMMENT


--------------------------





10. (C) DAS Bryza's meeting with Meredov and Calik yielded

ASHGABAT 00000043 003 OF 003


several promises by Meredov to resolve issues pertaining to
academic exchanges and religious freedom. It also built on
the opening President Niyzov provided earlier in the day to
explore a trans-Caspian gas pipeline and possible energy
exports from Turkmenistan to South Asia. Such cooperation,
especially given the expressed desire for OPIC participation,
might also provide a new hook for us to push for greater
reforms in Turkmenistan. Given recent events in Ukraine,
Georgia and Moldova, Turkmenistan is eager to look for
alternative routes to bypass Gazprom,s obstructionism. END
COMMENT.



10. (U) DAS BRYZA CLEARED THIS CABLE.

JACOBSON
JACOBSON