THE KNESSET building..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Turkmenistan Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov wrapped up a three-day visit here on Tuesday, the first in nearly two decades by a foreign minister of that strategically important country, which shares a 1,000 kilometer border with Iran.
During his visit, Meredov spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and met with Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin and Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold.
Gold tweeted that Israel respects Turkmenistan’s neutrality, a country of some 5.2 million people that – in addition to sharing a long border with Iran – sits between Russia and China.
He called that secular state with a Muslim majority an “extremely important” central Asian country.
Turkmenistan has charted a neutral geopolitical course, refusing to have its foreign policies dictated by others, including Iran. Tehran worked in the past to hamper close ties between Israel and Turkmenistan, such as those that already exist between Israel and Azerbaijan, another of Iran’s neighbors on the Caspian Sea.
Nevertheless, Turkmenistan is still concerned about perception in Iran, and in 2013 finally accepted Israel’s appointment as ambassador, Shemi Tzur, after two earlier candidates – Reuven Daniel and Haim Koren – were rejected for allegedly being spies. Turkmenistan charged that they were not interested in furthering bilateral relations, but in collecting intelligence on the Islamic Republic.
Netanyahu met with Meredov in New York in 2013 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The Foreign Ministry characterized the conversation between the two this week as “friendly,” and said they agreed to “widen and deepen” diplomatic and economic ties.
Israeli companies have been involved in revamping the largest oil refinery in Turkmenistan.
In a related development, Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini will arrive Wednesday for a three-day visit during which he will meet with Netanyahu. He will also meet with PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.
Soini is arriving a day after meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Helsinki, something surely to be raised during the talks with Netanyahu.