Iran neighbour Turkmenistan gets first Israeli ambassador

ASHKHABAD, TURKMENISTAN (AFP) - The Central Asian state of Turkmenistan, which shares a 1,000 kilometre border with Iran, has accepted the credentials of the first ever Israeli ambassador to the country, state media said Thursday.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov received the ambassadorial credentials of senior Israeli diplomat Shemi Tzur, the government newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan said.

The paper said that Mr Tzur presented Berdymukhamedov with a greeting from President Shimon Peres who expressed interest in establishing a full dialogue with the overwhelmingly Muslim but strongly secular desert nation.

Mr Tzur also invited Berdymukhamedov to make his first visit to Israel.

Diplomatic relations between ex-Soviet Turkmenistan and Israel were established in 1992 and the Jewish state first announced a plan to send an ambassador to Ashgabat in 2009.

However Ashgabat never accepted the credentials of the first candidate for ambassador, Reuven Daniel, an ex-Mossad agent whose nomination had reportedly irked Iran.

Daniel was reportedly expelled by Russia from his posting in Moscow in 1996 in an espionage scandal.

A second candidate was also rebuffed and according to media reports Turkmenistan finally accepted the nomination of Mr Tzur after several months of negotiations.

The Israeli ambassador will be the second representative of the Jewish state in a Muslim ex-Soviet country bordering Iran. Israel already has an envoy in Azerbaijan with whom it has built strong relations much to the concern of Teheran.

Mr Berdymukhamedov has made stabs at reform in his reclusive nation since taking over after the death of his notoriously eccentric predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.

The European Union, the United States and China are all eyeing its vast gas resources but the country remains one of the most isolated in the world.