January 7th, 2007 04:02 EST
U.S. Welcomes Hints of Openness in Turkmenistan
Washington -- The United States welcomes acting Turkmenistan President Kurbanguli Berdymukhamedov’s remarks about educational reform, the expansion of exchange programs and increasing Internet access for the Turkmen people, said Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher in a January 5 interview with Voice of America—Russia.
"Education, access to information, economic opportunity, entrepreneurship, these are things that are fundamental to creating a more open society [than existed under previous leadership]," Boucher said. "As we hope Turkmenistan will move forward to a new future, we’re quite ready for a new relationship," he added.
Berdymukhamedov, Turkmenistan’s former deputy prime minister, took over the leadership of the Central Asian country following the December 21 death of President Saparmurat Niyazov. According to the State Department’s country background notes on Turkmenistan, Niyazov’s authoritarian regime had a poor human rights record, and the United States and Turkmenistan have disagreed about the country’s path toward democratic and economic reform. (See related article.)
Despite some talk of change, Berdymukhamedov has yet to mention political reforms for Turkmenistan, noted Boucher. Such reforms need "to be a part of the package" in order for Turkmenistan to create "a more dynamic society, more creative society, a better economic opportunity for everyone," said Boucher. The United States continues to encourage Turkmenistan to work toward political change; Boucher, however, said decisions on reforms "are going to have to be made in the end in Turkmenistan."
Boucher said the United States would also like to see Turkmenistan develop its oil and gas resources and increase its export options. Earning market rates for the sale of its energy resources would help Turkmenistan reap the "kind of benefits from their oil and gas resources that others in the [Central Asian] region have managed to get," he said.
Having multiple gas pipelines and multiple trading markets would help to "secure the sovereignty and independence of the nation," he added. The United States, Boucher said, has "always believed in the independence of these [Central Asian] countries."
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By Carrie Loewenthal
USINFO Special Correspondent