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Reviving the Silk Road

Landlocked is one of the more sobering words in the geopolitical lexicon. It implies, rightly or wrongly, a nation cut off from world trade patterns, indebted to its neighbors for free passage to the fluid commerce of sea and air.

It's good news, then, that the planned "new silk road" linking 12 nations of central Eurasia is moving forward. The 12 plan to develop road, rail, sea, and air connections connecting the mineral-rich but isolated lands of Central Asia from Europe to China. Essentially what they are fashioning is a modernized version of the old silk road that brought caravans of spices, fabrics, arts, and recipes from Asia to Europe. And that also led Marco Polo to the court of emperor Kublai Khan, as well as images of Indian elephants and Greek acanthus leaves to central China.

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One-third of the nations that signed the agreement last week in Baku, Azerbaijan, aren't in fact landlocked. Ukraine, Georgia, and Bulgaria have access to the world's oceans through the Black Sea. And Turkey, which straddles that access, also provides a Mediterranean port for a planned major oil pipeline from Azerbaijan. But the remaining landlocked nations, freed from the former Soviet Union and stretching from the Caspian eastward, have rich resources to trade for goods from Europe and China. Those resources include oil from Azerbaijan and Kazakstan, other minerals, cotton, and fruits and vegetables.

The European Union is sponsoring the development. Already some $200 million in new investment has flowed to the region, and traffic has grown 60 percent in the past two years.

It's particularly pleasing that Ar- menia has joined Azerbaijan in the agreement - another sign that the two warring nations are becoming pragmatic about cooperation. It's also good news that Russia and Iran sent delegations to Baku. Iran has been vying with Turkey for influence in many of the Muslim states in the pact. And the new silk road is designed in large measure to help a majority of its members to have alternative transport routes to those that Stalin engineered to tie them to Moscow.

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