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Does Iran have a 'bridge' to Central Asia?

If Iran maintains its policy of not pushing an Islamist agenda on the secular Central Asian countries, there is potential for increased economic and political cooperation.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov take part in a joint press conference following their meeting in Ashgabat on March 11, 2015. Hassan Rouhani is on his first state visit to Turkmenistan. AFP PHOTO / IGOR SASIN        (Photo credit should read IGOR SASIN/AFP/Getty Images)
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President Hassan Rouhani’s recent trip to Turkmenistan cannot be dismissed as a one-off. Since coming to office in August 2013, the Rouhani administration has prioritized relations with the Muslim states of the former Soviet Union. Given the potential for economic ties and trade, Tehran’s aspirations are fully understandable.

Meanwhile, the Central Asian states are largely receptive. But for this latest momentum to gain enduring traction, Tehran has to be smart about its appeal to the Central Asians. For them, Iran is a very familiar civilization and a much-needed bridge to world markets. On the other hand, any attempt by Tehran to interject its Islamist ideology into relations will very likely give the famously cautious secular Central Asian governments reasons to once again pull away. 

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