U.S. Will Leave Uzbek Base but Seeks Ongoing Bilateral Dialogue
29 September 2005
State Department officials say U.S. will continue to press on human rights
By Tim Receveur
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington – State Department officials say the United States will not make its interest in promoting democracy and human rights in Uzbekistan subservient to regional strategic interests, and the United States will leave the Karshi-Khanabad (K-2) air base in southern Uzbekistan “without further discussion.”
"The Uzbek government made it clear that we need to leave the base, and we intend to leave it without further discussion," Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said during a press conference following his meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent September 27.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said September 28 that Fried had held a three-hour meeting with Karimov and that the discussion was “intense, serious, as well as open. Assistant Secretary Fried stressed our hope that the U.S. and Uzbekistan can still work together to improve relations on all elements of a broad agenda,” including democracy, human rights, political reform and security cooperation.
“I think the message we heard back from Uzbekistan was that it was important to continue a dialogue and we will, again, be open to discussions with Uzbekistan,” McCormack said. “But Assistant Secretary Fried also underscored the fact that we view our strategic interests as well as our interests in promoting democracy and human rights in the region as one and the same in the case of Uzbekistan.”
He said the K-2 base came up “only briefly” during the Tashkent meeting and that Fried “reiterated the fact that we understood the Uzbek government position and that we would comply with our agreement and obligations.”
UNITED STATES STILL URGING POLITICAL, ECONOMIC REFORMS
McCormack was asked September 29 if the United States would join the European Union in imposing sanctions in response to Uzbekistan's refusal to allow an independent inquiry into the May violence in Andijan, but he did not answer directly.
He said Fried reaffirmed to Karimov “our call for an independent international investigation into Andijan. And I would just note also that there is currently $20 million-plus in potential aid that we are withholding pending Uzbekistan's compliance with its previous agreement with us.”
Congress requires the secretary of state to certify annually that Uzbekistan has made sufficient progress on political and economic reform before the United States can provide certain military and economic assistance to the Uzbek government. Certification was denied in 2004 and a decision has not yet been made for 2005.
Fried said his message to Uzbek officials was to determine a basis on which U.S.-Uzbek relations and cooperation could move ahead, provided such notions as democracy, human rights and political reforms were taken into account.
“We did not agree on all issues and made it clear we support civil society and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] around the world just like foreign NGOs can operate in the U.S.,” he said.
While noting that the United States and Uzbekistan share common security concerns, Fried said the two countries "have had a very difficult period in relations, complicated by grave concerns regarding the human rights situation and events in Andijan."
On July 29, Uzbek lawmakers formally gave the United States 180 days to vacate the K-2 base after repeated calls by the United States that Uzbekistan permit an international investigation of the Andijan events.
Uzbekistan is trying 15 men from Andijan accused of leading the protests. According to news reports, all have pleaded guilty to multiple charges including terrorism -- although human rights groups allege that the confessions were coerced. One of the defendants testified September 26 that the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent had given him money to help organize the violence.
Fried called the accusations “ludicrous” and said "the assertions that the U.S. supports an attack by Islamic extremists after fighting four years against exactly such people is not credible."
Fried’s trip to Uzbekistan will be followed by visits to the Kyrgyz Republic on September 29, and Kazakhstan on September 30 for talks on bilateral and regional issues, including the fight against terrorism.
For additional information, see a related article about comments on Uzbekistan by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns and an Internet chat with Kent Logsdon, deputy director of the Office of Caucasus and Central Asian Affairs at the State Department.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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