* Central Asia rich in resources but landlocked
* New transit link could be part of North-South project By Marat Gurt
ASHGABAT, April 25 (Reuters) - Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan agreed on Monday with Iran, Qatar and Oman to create a transit rail route linking energy-rich but landlocked Central Asia to the Gulf.
The new transport corridor will run from Uzbekistan across Turkmenistan and then to the Gulf via Iran, bypassing chronically unstable Afghanistan next door.
“This is a legally binding agreement ... which allows us to start creating a new geo-economic space,” Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov said before signing the agreement on establishing the transport and transit corridor.
He signed the document with his counterparts from Uzbekistan, Iran, Oman and a deputy foreign minister from Qatar. “This is a historic document ...(it) is in the interests of the Central Asian region and the Gulf,” Uzbek Foreign Minister Elyor Ganiyev told journalists.
Officials declined to disclose the length and the cost of the project, or to say when it could be implemented.
An official close to the talks said that besides railway transport communication, the five sides are also discussing ways to simplify customs procedures to facilitate trade.
Turkmenistan is Central Asia’s No. 1 producer and exporter of natural gas, holding the world’s fourth-largest reserves of the fuel. It also aims to boost its crude oil output more than sixfold to 67 million tonnes by 2030.
Its neighbour Uzbekistan is a major producer of cotton and gold and is also estimated to hold ample hydrocarbon reserves.
A Turkmen official said the new transit link could be part of the planned 934-km (585-mile) North-South railway corridor, already being developed to improve Turkmenistan’s access to northern neighbour Kazakhstan and further northwards to Russia.
That rail line is due for completion by September 2012.
Last month Turkmenistan secured a $125-million loan from the Asian Development Bank to improve infrastructure along a third of the North-South link.
Reporting by Marat Gurt; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; editing by Jason Neely