By Tavus Rejepova (03/04/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Azerbaijan's, Turkey's, and Turkmenistan's Ministers of Foreign Affairs Elmar Mammadyarov, Mevlut Cavusoglu and Rashid Meredov gathered in Ashgabat on January 29 to discuss regional energy and transportation issues.
Cavusoglu, leading a big delegation, arrived in Ashgabat on January 28 to meet with President Berdimuhammedov and discuss the next day's trilateral meeting as well as Berdimuhammedov's expected visit to Turkey on March 3. Cavusoglu also met separately with his counterpart Meredov to discuss energy security, transportation and expansion of the current state of commercial ties. Turkey is Turkmenistan's main trade partner and Turkey represents the highest presence of foreign companies in Turkmenistan, at over 600 companies.
Mammadyarov met with President Berdimuhammedov on January 29 before the trilateral ministerial meeting and discussed enhancing commercial ties between the two countries. Referring to his last visit to Ashgabat five years ago, Mammadyarov expressed satisfaction with the current level of relations between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
During the trilateral meeting between the ministers of foreign affairs, the sides discussed cooperation in the areas of trade, energy, transportation and education. In particular, the ministers stressed the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey transportation link project aimed at increasing trade and reducing cargo transit expenses among these countries, as an important objective. Representatives of these five countries met in Ashgabat in November 2014 over the draft agreement of this transport corridor.
Following the talks, the sides also decided to create a trilateral format for the oil and gas company representatives of the three countries. The ministers of Turkey and Azerbaijan reportedly invited Turkmenistan to join the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) project, which envisages delivering gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field to Europe via Georgia and Turkey.
President Berdimuhammedov has stated earlier stated that the trans-Caspian pipeline, intended to bring Turkmen gas to Europe via TANAP, only requires the consent of two countries (Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan) whose seabed sectors these pipelines would cross. But Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov has stated that "the project of the trans-Caspian gas pipeline falls into the category of projects that affect the interests of countries that do not participate in it" expressing concern over the project. Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission's Vice President in charge of Energy Union, stressed the importance of addressing the technological and legal issues of transporting Turkmen gas to Azerbaijan in his address to reporters on February 12. Speaking at Turkmenistan's Oil & Gas Conference in Ashgabat in November 2014, Rovnaq Abdullayev, the CEO of Azerbaijan's energy company SOCAR, expressed readiness to provide Azerbaijan's developed infrastructure, diversified oil and gas pipeline network, warehouses and terminals, fleet of ships and other assets needed for implementing projects in the oil and gas industry to its neighbors in the region, primarily to Turkmenistan.
During the trilateral meeting in Ashgabat, Mammadyarov also met with Cavusoglu to discuss regional cooperation, highlighting President Ilham Aliyev's visit to Turkey on January 14-15, 2015.
The first trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan took place in Baku on May 26, 2014, when the "Baku Statement" was released, expressing the three countries' determination to develop trilateral relations in various fields, particularly in energy, trade, transportation, culture, tourism, education and environmental protection through joint projects and cooperation initiatives.
As a result of the Ashgabat meeting, the foreign ministers signed a joint declaration and adopted a trilateral framework cooperation program for 2015-17. The foreign ministers also agreed to organize a trilateral meeting between the presidents of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Turkmenistan in Ashgabat, planned for October of 2015, which is expected to expand the trilateral partnership in energy, transportation and communication sectors to new levels. The next trilateral meeting between foreign ministers is slated to be held in Turkey.