This is interesting -- Rashid Meredov, the only one of past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov's men left standing in the Berdymukhamedov administration -- and still left standing there, too, unlike so many other ministers dismissed in disgrace! -- is coming to the US "some time later this month".
Robert O. Blake, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs has a lengthy statement on Turkmen-American affairs, such as they are, at the Turkic American Conference this week.
I was wondering to what do we owe the pleasure of some of the recent political prisoner releases. Such things don't happen "just so" in this part of the world -- they happen as part of a careful bargaining. So somebody -- our ambassadors, in Ashgabat, in Vienna, elsewhere -- have been pushing for some of these "concessions" before Meredov got the gift of this trip.
That's my hunch. Of course, it might not at all be that stark or that conscious or that stated. But it is sort of in the area of the sweeteners that have to happen to do transactions with these regimes.
What does the US need from Turkmenistan?
o oil and gas rights -- but they won't get those, not any time soon
o help to Afghanistan so they don't have to give it -- and they get some of that
o access to go in and out of Afghanistan and prosecute and wind down the war -- which they get some of, and at a price
o help with Iran, i.e. by not helping Iran -- which they get some of
o other stuff -- regional cooperation on water, building the Wall of Shame around Russia, things like that.
And then there's TAPI. TAPI strikes me as one of those totemic Silk Road illusions that never comes to pass but maybe is never meant to come to pass, as it is a metaphor to bring together people across borders, like the Internet...or something.
But Turkmenistan has gas, Pakistan and India need gas, and Afghanistan does too, and there it is. It inches forward.
Interestingly, human rights and democracy -- or whatever passes for those issues in Ashgabat -- are now always woven into the statements on Turkmenistan like a red thread in a Turkmen carpet. But not a red thread that will stand out compared to the orange thread of gas...or something. But still:
In January I had very productive meetings with President Berdimuhamedov and other senior Turkmen officials in Ashgabat, and later this month Foreign Minister Meredov will come to Washington to meet with Secretary Kerry. In these talks we discuss frankly, as friends, all aspects of our relationship, including our appreciation for the support that Turkmenistan provides to Afghanistan and its leadership on increasing regional connectivity and economic cooperation; the growing commercial relationship between our countries; and the importance of building civil society and democratic institutions and ensuring respect for human rights.
Increasing people-to-people ties and cultural exchanges are an important part of developing any bilateral relationship. Last November, our embassy in Ashgabat staged a three-day “U.S. Culture Days in Turkmenistan” event that featured American jazz, bluegrass, and rock groups; a painter and a jewelry maker, both from Albuquerque, New Mexico, with which Ashgabat has a sister city relationship; a delegation from the Smithsonian Institution, which has longstanding collaboration with Turkmenistan; and a chef from New York.
A chef. Okay. Well, good! I can't seem to find out what he cooked. Cheeseburgers?
What I do hope doesn't happen on this trip is that there are those sort of embarrassing moments with dictators that occur at things like round tables at museums where we pretend we're all interested in world culture together. Some of that is necessary to oil the wheels of commerce, but there shouldn't be any sort of Vint Cerf letters praising Berdy's contribution to the Internet as we've had in the past -- ugh. Please, let's don't. Let's try to attend to appearances this time.
Human rights groups, sharpen up your petitions. It's hard to have things to ask for concretely when some of the prisoners are out, others you don't know about or they show know progress, and it's hard to capture the deplorable situation in an "ask".
Even so, I hope Kerry and others at the State Department do the following:
o not praise the press law and make it clear it's not enough and forcing stringers or freelancers or blogger to register is not on
o speaking of the Internet, open it up, stop blocking Youtube, Twitter, etc. and join the rest of the world
o move forward on university, professional, medical, etc. exchanges and restore the Peace Corps which was kicked out
There's lots one could add -- "come clean and report all the revenue from oil and gas sales that go directly into the president's coffers" but State Department people like "doables" and "deliverables".
As for TAPI, one could always ask them to be more transparent on any number of things. Good luck.
What about a little thing like making the jobs exchange that is being held out as a boon to the impoverished people of these countries a transparent and accountable thing, so that the people in those countries get those jobs, get living wages, and it doesn't just get outsourced or people exploited? Use the Internet for something good.