Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 101

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niazov and the new defense minister, Batyr Sarjaev, conferred yesterday in Ashgabat with General Anthony Zinni, commander in chief of the Central Command of the United States Armed Forces. The talks focused on both incipient reforms in the Turkmen armed forces and developing contacts with the U.S. military and NATO. Zinni underscored the “technical and consultative” character of such contacts and their compatibility with Turkmenistan’s status as a permanently neutral country.

That compatibility was also stressed during Niazov’s talks with visiting senior military officers and advisers from NATO countries in recent weeks. It was agreed during those talks that neutral Switzerland has set a precedent by participating in NATO’s Partnership for Peace and other programs. The stress on this point is meant to legitimize the U.S.-led breakthrough which has just been achieved in terms of military contacts between Turkmenistan and NATO. At this stage the contacts focus on enrolling Turkmen officers in training courses in the United States and Western Europe and on providing advice on the reform of the Turkmen military.

It was during Zinni’s visit that Niazov announced his decision to appoint for the first time a civilian–Sarjaev–as defense minister. The decision constitutes an initial step in military reform. A deputy prime minister since 1994, Sarjaev was responsible for supervising the military and law enforcement ministries until 1996 and the oil and gas sector from 1996 to now. He retains the rank of deputy prime minister and will be in overall charge of the army, border, internal and security troops. Sarjanov will soon attend a crash course in the United States on military management. His predecessor as defense minister, General Gurban Kasymov, was transferred to the post of justice minister yesterday.

Zinni, whose command is responsible for handling military cooperation with Central Asian countries, has just held talks with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent and with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev in Bishkek Those talks focused on preparations for the upcoming, U.S.-led joint exercise CentrasBat (see the Monitor, May 12, 19).

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