Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen inaugurated a permanent embassy in the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan on Thursday, establishing his country’s closest diplomatic presence to Iran, as Israel seeks to strengthen ties with Tehran’s neighbors.
Although the countries established diplomatic ties 30 years ago, there has only been a temporary embassy in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, and the predominantly Muslim Turkmenistan still has no embassy in Israel.
“I came to open an Israeli embassy 17 kilometers from the border with Iran, and to hold a series of meetings with the president and other officials,” Cohen tweeted on Thursday.
In a video statement after his meeting with Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov, Cohen called his visit “historic” and said Israel’s ties with Central Asia’s “energy superpower” were of strategic importance.
“We intend to widen economic relations to include agriculture, water, technology and border defense,” he said. “No doubt both countries will benefit from the closer cooperation.”
The gas-rich desert nation of six million has an official neutrality policy, avoiding membership in any political or military blocs. Its main economic partner is China which buys the bulk of Turkmen gas exports.
Turkmenistan’s trade with Iran is relatively small and the two countries had disputes about potentially large hydrocarbon deposits in the Caspian Sea.
Although all five Caspian littoral states signed a convention in 2018 settling such disputes, Tehran is yet to ratify the document - which also holds up Ashgabat’s plans to build a pipeline across the sea to ship gas to Europe.