Central Asia: U.S. Embassy Says No Plans To Open Military Base In Turkmenistan
By Bruce Pannier
Since last month articles have been circulating that the United States planned to use a military base in Turkmenistan to replace the base in Uzbekistan that the government has asked the U.S. to leave. The rumors of a U.S. base seemed more plausible after a top U.S. military official visited Turkmenistan at the end of August. However, the U.S. ambassador in Turkmenistan has finally spoken out and said there are no plans for the United States to use a base there.
At the end of July, the Uzbek government requested the United States to leave the Khanabad base, used for operations in Afghanistan since 2001, by the end of this year.
Despite statements from Washington that the Khanabad base was no longer important for efforts in Afghanistan, stories spread that the United States was looking to move its force to Mary-2, in eastern Turkmenistan.
The visit of General John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command, to Turkmenistan on 23-24 August to meet with President Saprmurat Niyazov sparked reports that the United States was seeking to use a military base to compensate for the loss of Khanabad.
On 25 August, the Russian daily “Vremya Novostei” carried a story entitled “Turkmenbashi haggles with America about the price of a military presence on his territory.”
Other media started carrying stories about a U.S. military base in Turkmenistan, always citing unnamed officials in the Turkmen Defense Ministry.
Some media reported that U.S. troops had already started arriving at Mary-2 after a company from the United Arab Emirates completed repairs to runways at the air base.
Helen Lovejoy, the public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat, told RFE/RL today that there were never any negotiations about the U.S. use of military bases in Turkmenistan.
“This has been clarified yesterday formally by Ambassador [Tracy Ann] Jacobson here in Ashgabat and we can confirm that the United States government has no plans to establish military bases in Turkmenistan,” Lovejoy said.
Lovejoy knew about the many reports of the U.S. military moving from Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan, but she said General Abizaid did not even mention the issue when he met with the Turkmen president and subsequent stories to the contrary were full of inaccuracies.
“The subject itself [use of military bases] did not come up during the meeting of Centcom Commander General Abizaid with President Niyazov on 23 August. This meeting was apparently picked up by some Russian press and there were many inaccurate stories following the meeting,” Lovejoy said.
Lovejoy said there was security cooperation between the United States and Turkmenistan but nothing that equated to a military deal.
“The U.S. embassy’s security cooperation with Turkmenistan is designed to improve Turkmenistan’s capacity to secure its borders, to fight common threats such as proliferation of weapons, illegal narcotics and trafficking of persons,” Lovejoy said.
Similar reports, again mostly in Russian media, have surfaced about possible U.S. bases in Azerbaijan. U.S. officials have denied these claims also.
Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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