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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Meets Turkmenistan's Leader

APPresident Vladimir Putin signing autographs on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, on Friday.
ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- U.S. President George W. Bush held talks with Turkmenistan's president on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Bucharest -- their first official meeting since the Turkmen leader came to power in 2006.

The West has been courting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, seen as a reformist, since he took over from Saparmurat Niyazov, who showed little interest in foreign diplomacy during his 21-year rule.

Bush told Berdymukhammedov during their meeting Thursday that the United States sought to step up dialogue with Turkmenistan, Central Asia's top natural gas exporter, bordering Iran and Afghanistan, Turkmen media reported Friday.

"Turkmenistan has huge potential in the energy sphere ... and remains committed to its strategy of diversifying export routes on the global market," Berdymukhammedov told Bush, the state Turkmen Khabarlary news agency quoted

"This position was met with full support from the U.S. president," the agency reported.

Turkmenistan exports most of its natural gas through Gazprom, which then resells it to Europe at higher prices.

The United States has urged Turkmenistan to find alternative routes for its exports and has lobbied for the rival Nabucco pipeline project designed to link Caspian gas with West European markets.