Christopher Schwartz, blogging at neweurasia.net, believes the cables to show that Turkmenistan (bordered by both Iran and Afghanistan) has a "surprising role" for the U.S., although it is well known that the U.S. Embassy has built border installations at the Turkmen-Iran border and trained Turkmen border guards to better spot contraband in this geographically strategic and sensitive Central Asian nation (not to mention paid Turkmenistan for transit rights on the Northern Distribution Network).
To be sure, there are some analysts who have come to believe that the failure of two successive U.S. administrations to appoint an ambassador to this strategically-vital country for more than four years seems...strange. So strange, that one theory is that there are some forces that just don't want to have a congressional confirmation hearing potentially spotlight sensitive things that go on there. We were told in July, however, by senior officials that this ambassador is now "in the pipeline". (Along with the gas pipelines like Nabucco, presumably.)
Two of the cables from Ashgabat sent on February 24, 2009 by charge Richard Miles, who has since finished his tour of duty, seem at first to involve a sensational concern that the Turkmens may be using Russian assistance to ship uranium to Iran. The story was based on a trip by a Russian delegation to Khazar, site of a chemical plant with radioactive contamination, and a Russian firm had been contracted to clean up the site:
The Turkmen Government announced earlier this month that President Berdimuhamedov had signed a decree allowing the state chemical concern "Turkmenkhimiya" to enter into a contract with Ekomet-S of Russia for the transfer and burial of radioactive waste. The waste was reportedly produced at the Hazar chemical plant and at the Balkanabat iodine plant.
The Turkish ambassador raised concerns about possible Russian involvement via Turkmenistan in helping Iran:
Ambassador Huseyin Bichakli raised concerns about reports
that Turkmenistan and Russia plan to resume uranium production in Turkmenistan. He said that he had learned from sources that a Russian military delegation had visited Turkmenistan in early January and visited the site of a former "uranium" plant at Kizilkaya in Balkan Province.
This claim has to be seen in context, however. In June 2009, NATO also came to the same sites in Khazar and Balkanabat for a consultation with the Turkmen government . Both the Turkmen state television and NATO itself publicized the effort to help Ashgabat clean up the radioactive sites.
As EurasiaNet reported last year, at Khazar, the contaminated wooden containers are only 200 meters from the Caspian shore, and could pose a threat to the Avaza tourist zone and other coastal areas.
While the Turkmen government is secretive and we can suspect the worst, old Soviet-era sites being inspected by both NATO and the Russians and in the process of being decontaminated may be something quite different than a shipment of uranium to Iran -- maybe that's why Miles put the word "uranium" in quotation marks. His short cable didn't seem to unduly sound the alarm, and he noted:
Ambassador Bichakli did not provide his sources, but noted that for Turkmenistan to collaborate with Russia to transport processed uranium to Iran, particularly in a surreptitious manner, is inconsistent with its policy of neutrality. Post will report any further information on this issue.
Miles reports on February 13, 2009 that vigilant Turkmen customs agents discovered AK-47's, sniper rifles and ammunition hidden in two Turkmen carpets that Iranian diplomats had put in a diplomatic container to try to take out of Turkmenistan.
Other cables indicate that a source -- whose name has evidently been removed by Wikileaks itself for reasons unknown -- is providing inside analysis on the Iranian elections.
Schwartz has noted that the table of kilobytes of material WikiLeaks possesses shows that among Central Asian countries mentioned in this latest batch, Turkmenistan shows the largest amount of files. These cables are likely to contain analysis about Iran or maybe Afghanistan more than about domestic Turkmen affairs.