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Diplomacy in Action

Press Conference

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
June 15, 2010


Thank you, welcome everybody, it's nice to see you all again. I'm delighted to be back here in Ashgabat. I was pleased to have the opportunity to lead the U.S. delegation to the first-ever Annual Bilateral Consultations between the U.S. and Turkmenistan. Our delegation of senior officials from Washington included not only Assistant Secretary Michael Posner, who is our Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, but also other officials from the State Department and the Defense Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Department of Energy. I believe that the presence of so many high level officials from across our Government reflects the high priority that President Obama, Secretary Clinton and other members of our Government attach to engaging and improving our relations with Turkmenistan.

Assistant Secretary Posner and I were very honored to have the opportunity to meet with his Excellency, President Berdimuhamedov. We conveyed the greetings of President Obama and Secretary Clinton and affirmed the intention of the United States to deepen and broaden our cooperation with the Government of Turkmenistan.

Foreign Minister Meredov and I then inaugurated and held these Annual Bilateral Consultations over the last two days. The meetings allowed us the chance to review in detail, every aspect of our bilateral relations and develop many new ideas for strengthening our partnership.

We discussed our common concerns about stability in Afghanistan and what we both can do to contribute to progress in that important country.

We also talked about opportunities for further cooperation in the economic and energy sectors, including efforts to expand U.S. trade and investment and efforts to assist Turkmenistan with economic development and diversification. An important reflection of America's interest to expand trade and investment was our decision to include the first ever private sector business delegation as part of our consultations. Forty one representatives of eleven of America's most dynamic companies are here under the auspices of the U.S. Turkmenistan Business Council. I will join that delegation for a meeting tomorrow of the U.S. Turkmenistan Business Forum.

In our official consultations we also talked about joint efforts to combat the spread of terrorism and narcotics.

We talked about cooperation in humanitarian affairs, including educational and cultural matters, as well as a good discussion on human rights issues.

An important dimension of our visit was the opportunity to meet with civil society leaders, and we look forward to having a meeting with students as well. President Obama has made clear that in our relationships around the world we want to focus on improving relations between governments, but also to strengthen ties between our peoples.

As I mentioned earlier, this marks a promising beginning to what we expect will be annual consultations between the United States and Turkmenistan. We believe that by meeting and discussing things on a regular basis in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust, we will continue to improve our relations and jointly tackle the tough issues that face our two nations. Let me conclude by thanking Foreign Minister Meredov for his hospitality and his leadership throughout these two days of meetings. With that, I’d like to take any of your questions.

QUESTION: Russian agency ITAR-TASS. Anna Kurbanova. We are waiting for a U.S. Ambassador in Ashgabat for three years now. Have you discussed this issue? We are already having political consultations, but yet again without an Ambassador. For many this is not an indication of relations moving in a good direction.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Let me say that that is also a very high priority for the United States, and we hope to be able to name a new Ambassador soon.

QUESTION: Russian news agency RIA Novosti. Amangeldy Nurmyradov. In terms of cooperation in energy, was the project of transporting Turkmen gas to Europe bypassing Russia discussed?

Assistant Secretary Blake: We had a very long and good conversation about ways to enhance our energy cooperation and as a whole the United States supports the diversification of export routes for hydrocarbons from Turkmenistan, but we didn’t really discuss Russia in particular.

QUESTION: Reuters News Agency. Marat Gurt. On the agenda of the consultations, there were issues of military cooperation. I would like to know what specific agreements were made. Has the issue of transporting military cargo through Turkmenistan to Afghanistan been raised. I would appreciate a more concrete answer on this one.

Assistant Secretary Blake: No the United States is not looking to transport military supplies through Turkmenistan, but we do have a small military cooperation program with Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan lies in a very sensitive area, near the border of Afghanistan and of course we would like to do everything we can to enhance border security, counter narcotics and other kinds of cooperation to help ensure the security of Turkmenistan.

QUESTION: AFP. Igor Sasin. May I address my question to Mr. Posner?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Certainly

QUESTION: (AFP) Mr. Ponsner, how do you evaluate the situation with human rights issues in Turkmenistan? Current situation and the conditions that were, let's say, three or four years ago.

Assistant Secretary Posner: This is my first visit here and I would just say that we had very open, constructive discussions about a range of issues with the Government of Turkmenistan focused on areas where we see room for real cooperation; but we also discussed areas where we have differences. The spirit of the discussion was open, constructive and respectful.

QUESTION: Associated Press. Could you please tell us where exactly do we stand on the road to this dialogue?

Assistant Secretary Posner: You notice as I said earlier, there are a range of issues relating to the legal system for example where I think there is room for greater cooperation, exchange of information, etcetera. And there are some other issues like freedom of the press for example or the registration of NGO’s where we have differences and we explored those in detail, and had a good, open discussion but I’m not going to go into any more detail on that.

Assistant Secretary Blake: And I would also add that we had an agreement that will identify areas where we can cooperate on the issues of human rights so that was also welcomed from our perspective.

QUESTION: (RIA Novosti) The positions of the United States and Turkmenistan on the Afghanistan issues are nearly opposite. The US considers that the problem can be solved through military means, while President Berdimuhamedov many times has said publicly that the Afghan problem can be only be solved through peaceful means. After today's consultations has it become clearer to you Turkmenistan's position on Afghanistan?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I think we do have a clear understanding and first let me express the thanks of the United States for the humanitarian support that Turkmenistan is providing to help stabilize the situation in Afghanistan particularly through the provision of electricity to Afghanistan which still has substantial energy shortages. But as to your question, I don’t think there is as much difference between us as you may think. The United States has long recognized that there will have to be a political solution to the situation in Afghanistan and that one purpose of our military action now is to persuade, first of all to make room for the civilian activity that can take place to help build the Afghan economy. We are making a particularly strong effort in the area of agriculture which was once one of the mainstays of the Afghan economy. But to really make progress on the economy, you need security. So that is one of the primary aims now of our operation in places like Marja and later in Kandahar. There is also an effort underway that we talked about with our friends in Turkmenistan to engage in the reintegration and reconciliation with former Taliban. President Kharzi was recently in Washington where he had very high level meetings with President Obama and other members of our Cabinet in which he talked in great detail about that, and the United States in its part expressed its long-term commitment to the people and the Government of Afghanistan so that even as we begin to transfer responsibility for security by the end of this year, we are going to still have a very long-term development assistance program to help ensure the stability of that country and I think that our Turkmen friends were reassured to hear all those things.

QUESTION: (ITAR-TASS). The political consultations are taking place against the background of UN's adoption of sanction against Iran. Iran and Turkmenistan have long-term cooperation in the energy sector. Wouldn't those sanctions affect… would they not spoil Turkmen-Iranian energy cooperation?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Well, let me answer that first by saying that the United Nations Security Council enacted the most comprehensive sanctions ever against Iran in UN Security Council resolution 1929. These sanctions are aimed at Iran’s nuclear program, its ballistic missile program and its conventional military. That said, the United States remains committed to dialogue and a diplomatic solution to this and there is a way forward for Iran to get those sanctions suspended by stopping its enrichment program, by stopping its reprocessing and by agreeing to abide by its IAEA requirements. The United States strongly discourages any new commercial activity with Iran at this sensitive time when all of the international community should encourage Iran to abide by the UN obligations. And I will take the last question.

QUESTION: (IWPR) From Mr. Posner's answer I couldn't clearly understand what spheres of human rights were discussed here? I'd like to know about the situation regarding NGO's, about cancellation of visa regimes, black lists.

Assistant Secretary Posner: What I said earlier is that we discussed a range of issues and subjects where we are looking for greater cooperation and where we are able to work together including some issues relating to new laws and the implementation of laws. And I am quite hopeful that we can find those areas. There are other issues where we have expressed, in the past, concerns and we will continue to express concerns; we would like to see more openness for NGO’s, for example, to register and we are interested, as well, in an open media, and those are the types of issues we expressed concern as before. We had an open respectful conversation and I think it’s very positive that we were able to have both the areas of agreement and areas where we could disagree and discuss.

QUESTION: (IWPR) Most importantly, nowadays many NGOs speak about the tragic conditions they are in, because USAID closed all public centers simultaneously, like Counterpart, IREX. I am asking this as a follow up to my question, please.

Assistant Secretary Posner: I am not going to go into those details. I will just say that it was a very open and detailed conversation, a constructive conversation. It’s our first one of these annual consultations and I think that we laid the groundwork for a very open discussion about issues where we agree and are going to work together and an honest discussion about places where we don’t agree.

Assistant Secretary Blake: I'd like to thank you all for coming and specifically for your interest.

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