Turkmenistan has pulled the plug on an expensive – and tardy – Iranian construction project. Even so, Ashgabat’s action is unlikely to cause a significant breach in bilateral relations.
On September 8, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov announced that for “some economic reasons” he was annulling a $700-million contract with Iran’s Pars Energy to build a rail track linking Iran with Kazakhstan along Turkmenistan’s Caspian coastline. He said Turkmenistan would carry on with the project by itself.
Tehran and Ashgabat inked the deal in January 2010, and it was scheduled for completion last December. The 550-mile line would not only expand Turkmenistan’s trade links with its neighbors, but connect the landlocked country to the Persian Gulf. It would also provide a connection for Iran to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. If it is ever completed, the line is projected to handle 3- to 5-million tons of goods annually.
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Ashley Cleek is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia affairs. She is a frequent contributor to Eurasianet's Choihona and Sifting the Karakum blogs.