President Clinton met with President Niyazov of Turkmenistan yesterday in an effort to improve relations between the U.S. and Turkmenistan and in part to make way for the creation of a trans-national pipeline that might earn Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban militia group $50 to $100 million a year. A White House joint statement on U.S.-Turkmenistan relations said, “the United States and Turkmenistan aim to strengthen political, economic, security, commercial and agricultural ties for the benefit of both countries.”
Clinton and Niyazov discussed development of Caspian energy sources and export routes for U.S. companies. Niyazov said he would gladly agree to U.S. Trade and Development Agency aid in developing the pipeline. The joint statement noted that both presidents “welcomed the recent positive developments in the Afghanistan peace process, which could create new commercial opportunities and advance prospects for construction of a trans-Afghan pipeline.”
Oil companies, including U.S.-based Unocal, have agreed to hold off on creation of the gas pipeline until there is a recognized government and peace in Afghanistan. The pipeline would travel 105 miles in Turkmenistan, 462 in Afghanistan and 328 in Pakistan. Unocal, a U.S.-based oil and gas company, holds 46.5 percent of the stake in the line, and has begun training Afghan men in the U.S. to build the pipeline.
The United Nations and the U.S. are refusing recognition of the ruling Taliban militia group as the formal government until the Taliban restores women and girl’s human rights there. However, the combination of U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson’s trip to Afghanistan last week and President Clinton’s meeting with the Turkmenistan President suggests U.S. interest in putting peace negotiations and the pipeline on the fast track. Women’s organizations have expressed grave concerns that the rights of women and girls will be permanently sacrificed for peace and the pipeline, unless women’s rights are immediately and fully restored in Afghanistan.
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