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Visiting Turkmenistan, Iranian Leader Helps a ‘Brother’ Out

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tried to end uncertainty about Iran’s desire for Turkmenistan's gas during his first official visit to the gas-rich Central Asian country on March 11, promising an unspecified increase in imports.
 
Over the last few years, at least in terms of gas, Turkmenistan’s relationship with Iran has been second only to its relationship with Russia in volatility. Tehran makes occasional noises about boosting domestic production and doing away with a tiresome trade pickled with disputes.
 
But during his visit Rouhani confirmed that the Islamic Republic would up imports from Turkmenistan.
 
That must be music to Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s ears. The Turkmen economy has been struggling on the back of the sharp downturn in Russia and the slumping ruble; moreover, Moscow suddenly slashed imports of Turkmen gas last month.
 
Referring to increased transport links with Turkmenistan, such as the new Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway, Rouhani set an ambitious target for bilateral trade to grow by more than 15 times from its current $3.7 billion to $60 billion by 2020, his official president.ir website cited him as saying.
 
For his part, Berdymukhamedov was also effusive: “In recent years, given the growing cooperation in different fields, bilateral ties between Tehran and Ashgabat have taken on a new meaning,” said the Turkmen president, who also called Rouhani a “brother” in comments picked up by AFP.
 
According to Iran’s Press TV the pair signed 17 agreements.
 
Dependent on China for over two-thirds of its export income, Turkmenistan is actively seeking new trade partners. But while Iran might be able to help it open new ties to the Middle East, it is unlikely to lead the infrastructure-poor country to the Holy Grail – the European gas market.
 
Although Rouhani offered to act as a transit point for Turkmen energy en route to the European Union, it is well known that European officials tend to view any transport via Iran – still under international sanctions for pursuing a nuclear program – as toxic.
 
That has not stopped Iranian energy officials warning regularly that the EU’s preferred proposal for importing Turkmen gas, the Trans-Caspian pipeline, is “uneconomic.”

Visiting Turkmenistan, Iranian Leader Helps a ‘Brother’ Out

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