IN THE POST-INDEPENDENCE era, Turkmenistan's foreign policy has been primarily pragmatic. The republic's leadership has attempted to exploit Turkmenistan's natural wealth by cultivating regional ties without becoming embroiled in regional problems. But initial expectations of quick prosperity based on Ashgabat's new connections - to Iran in particular - have not panned out. Turkmenistan's efforts to balance its many ties to Russia with new ones to Iran have been overtaken by Iranian-Russian rapprochement, and Ashgabat now appears to have assumed the role of supporting actor in a triangular relationship with the other two countries. The triad's immediate common goal is to undermine the so-called deal of the century between Azerbaijan and a Western-led consortium to exploit oil in the Caspian Sea.

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