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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09ASHGABAT1170 2009-09-14 13:36:00 SECRET Embassy Ashgabat
Cable title:  

TURKMENISTAN: FM MEREDOV BEING MARGINALIZED?

Tags:   PREL PGOV PINR TX 
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1. (S) SUMMARY: Changes in Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov's
behavior and interactions with other members of the Cabinet
of Ministers seem to indicate that he does not currently hold
the first among equals position that he held even as late as
early this year, and has been replaced as the "dean" of the
Cabinet of Ministers. According to longtime Embassy contact
Michael Wilson, Meredov has been marginalized somewhat
because of his attempts to dissuade President Berdimuhamedov
from making an announcement criticizing Russia following the
pipeline explosion. In addition, Berdimuhamedov did not
appreciate Meredov's efforts to smooth relations with Russia
after the announcement, either. Some in the government do
not trust Meredov on Azerbaijan issues, simply because
Meredov's mother was ethnic Azeri. As Berdimuhamedov has
moved away from Meredov, he has made more decisions without
consulting others. He has also been taking more advice from
the security services or former Niyazov advisors than he did
in the past. If Meredov is being marginalized, this is not
good for U.S.-Turkmenistan relations. END SUMMARY.



2. (C) Since President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov's
ascendency to power following the death of former President
Niyazov in December 2006, Deputy Chairman and Foreign
Minister Rashid Meredov has played a special role.
Berdimuhamedov seemed to rely greatly on Meredov and that
reliance was not limited to strictly foreign affairs. It was
clear to observers that he was indeed "first among equals."
Early in his tenure, during meetings with foreign visitors,
Berdimuhamedov would turn to Meredov when there was a
question. In addition, Meredov seemed to play almost a
prime-ministerial role. When with the other deputy chairmen,
they often deferred to him. He was first in the line-up of
deputy chairmen at any official event. During openings of
exhibitions, he led the group of officials, diplomats, and
visitors during tours of the exhibits. He was never far from
the President. When other deputy chairmen traveled by plane
on the president's trips to the provinces, Meredov would fly
in the presidential helicopter with his boss.



3. (S) Something appears to have changed. Several months
ago, MFA officials hinted that their boss was having
problems. During recent events, Meredov has stood far back
in the pack. During the ceremony September 13 for
participants in the Silk Road 2009 Motor Rally, which
Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev, Russian President Medvedev,
and Berdimuhamedov attended, Meredov stayed off to the side.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Presidents headed off
together, followed by the Cabinet of Ministers, other Turkmen
officials, official visitors, Russian and Kazakh embassy
representatives, and various hangers on. Trailing far behind
the group was Meredov, walking and talking to a female
Russian official. In fact, an Embassy FSN said that Meredov
has been replaced as the "Dean" of the Cabinet of Ministers
by Deputy Chairman for Health and Education Hydyr Saparliyev.
(COMMENT: This tracks with recent behavior of the deputy
chairmen. Saparliyev has been at the head of the line of
deputy chairmen during recent official events. He has also
seemed more confident than usual. END COMMENT.)



4. (S) We met with EU-TACIS Representative Michael Wilson
(strictly protect) September 14 to get his view. Wilson is a
longtime Embassy contact, who has lived and worked in
Turkmenistan since the early 90s. He has an extensive
network of contacts in the government and always has his
finger on the pulse of what is happening. Wilson said that
Berdimuhamedov's dependence on Meredov has been waning since
April, and the president does not trust Meredov's judgment as
much as he did in the past. Wilson said one reason Meredov
has been under pressure is because he tried to persuade
Berdimuhamedov to not make the announcement condemning Russia
for the pipeline explosion. Meredov worked hard when the
dispute started to try to calm things with Russia and
mitigate the negative effects of the outburst. However,
Meredov's efforts were not appreciated by the president.
Another reason for his problems is because Meredov's mother
was ethnic Azeri. Therefore, despite all evidence to the

ASHGABAT 00001170 002 OF 002


contrary, there are some doubts that he might have divided
loyalties.



5. (S) Currently, Meredov is more out of the loop on
decisions than he had been before, said Wilson. However,
Wilson asserted, Berdimuhamedov is increasingly making
decisions without consulting with deputy chairmen. The tight
knit group of advisors that surrounded Niyazov (Victor
Khramov, Alexander Zhadan, and Vladimir Umnov - Wilson
referred to them as the "thornbush") are the people most
closely advising Berdimuhamedov now. In addition, Wilson
said, Berdimuhamdeov is listening more to the security
services and the Ministry of National Security is having more
influence all around.



6. (S) Wilson did not believe that Meredov would lose his
job. Berdimuhamedov knows Meredov is the best lawyer in the
country and that he needs this Foreign Minister for
international legal advice. Wilson offered that
Berdimuhamedov will keep Meredov, but keep him somewhat
marginalized.



7. (S) COMMENT: Wilson's assessment tracks with what we had
already noticed. Meredov (and MFA) was increasingly less
willing to insert himself in problems involving other
ministries. And concerns about security appear to be playing
a major role in the student exit problem. If Meredov is
being marginalized, this is not good news for the United
States. Meredov is one of the smartest people in the Turkmen
leadership and well-versed in all things American, including
the U.S. Constitution. He is not a democrat, but he
understands the importance of close relations and cooperation
with the United States - certainly more than the new
purported dean - Saparliyev. END COMMENT.
CURRAN