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Why has Rouhani visited Berdymukhamedov again?

Relations of Turkmenistan and Iran require interference of Presidents Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and Hassan Rouhani. It is their second meeting this month. The first one – at the Ashgabat airport, was not made public, but was confirmed by two independent sources. Then the Iranian president’s visit was kept secret. It means that the leaders failed to achieve an agreement over Iran’s debt for the supplied Turkmen gas. The two presidents charged relevant agencies to settle the issue.

The new meeting could mean that the sides have arrived at a concession over gas issue or the talks have reached a stalemate and Rouhani arrived in Ashgabat to sort things out – it would be too brave. The Turkmen-Iranian relations hang on a thread. So, the task may be harder than just settling the gas debt issue.

Last week, Turkmen frontier guards opened fire at Iranian fishing boat in a few kilometers from the coastline in the Caspian Sea and killed two Iranian fishermen. According official reports of Ashgabat, the killed Iranians were drug traffickers. They ignored the Turkmen frontier guards’ order and “made provocative maneuvers and actions that were perceived as encroachment on the lives of frontier guards.” Ashgabat reports that “use of force was strictly in compliance with the Constitution of Turkmenistan.”

Meantime, the Iranian side has its own story. According to Iranian Mass Media, Turkmenistan killed fishermen whose boat got out of order and the flow led them to Turkmenistan’s territorial waters. What happened, in fact, is not clear. The issue is actually on agenda of the talks along with other issues of bilateral relations.

Talking to EADaily, Igor Pankratenko, PhD in Political Sciences, a member of the Scientific Council of Iran-East Institute of Central Asian and Afghan Studies, said Tehran denies the debt, demands recalculation of bills, and is confident that the debt is insignificant and can be covered in terms of goods. Ashgabat’s stance is diametrically opposite. Turkmenistan demands $2 billion for additional gas that was supplied for $360 per 1,000 cubic meters, and not at a preferential price of $40 per 1,000 cubic meters. Iranian-Turkmen discrepancies may affect the 5-partite agreement on the Caspian Sea status to be signed soon. The agreement may put an end to the years-long discrepancies of the Caspian region states over the Caspian Sea and pave the way towards implementation of large energy projects of gas supply from one shore of the Caspian Sea to the other.

“I think Presidents Berdymukhamedov and Rouhani will find common language – preliminary actions have been taken already, otherwise the president of Iran would not leave for Ashgabat,” Nina Mamedova, senior research fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian NAS, told EADaily. Mamedova believes that everyone seeks settlement of the conflict situation, though the sides have arguments. “Tehran is sure that Ashgabat should respond to changes in the global gas market and act accordingly. Furthermore, Turkmen gas is no longer an economic and political value for Iran. At the same time, Iran is ready to cooperate with Turkmenistan - at present, the latter has only one buyer of its gas – China. Iran may further import Turkmen gas but on its own terms,” Mamedova said.

The situation with the Turkmen-Iranian gas pipeline shows that the two neighbors need each other. The pipeline was built and put into operation during U.S. sanctions and the strict law banning foreign powers from involving into energy projects of Iran. Turkmenistan, in turn, needs Iran - during Ashgabat’s conflict with Gazprom, when Turkmenistan failed to sell the gas and get the proceeds it anticipated, Iran was the only country to buy Turkmen gas.

“Anyway, I suppose, the sides do not seek confrontation and will do their utmost to overcome contradictions and restore good-neighbored relations,” Nina Mamedova said.

EADaily’s Central Asian Bureau

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