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Uzbekistan - US Relations

The U.S. recognized the independence of Uzbekistan on December 25, 1991, and opened an Embassy in Tashkent in March 1992. February 2012 will mark 20 years of diplomatic relations between the United States and Uzbekistan. U.S. policy since that time has been to support Uzbekistan’s development as an independent, sovereign country with democratic institutions rooted in the rule of law.

Beginning in the late 1990s and through 2004, the government received U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF), International Military Education and Training (IMET), and other security assistance funds. Beginning in 2004, new FMF and IMET assistance to Uzbekistan was stopped, as the Secretary of State, implementing U.S. Government legislation, was unable to certify that the Government of Uzbekistan was making progress in meeting its commitments, including respect for human rights and economic reform, under the U.S.-Uzbekistan Strategic Framework Agreement. Uzbekistan approved U.S. Central Command's request for access to a vital military air base in southern Uzbekistan following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US.

On March 12, 2002, Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov visited Washington where he met with President Bush. During that visit, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his Uzbek counterpart Adulaziz Kamilov signed the “Declaration on the Strategic Partnership and Cooperation Framework between the United States of America and the Republic of Uzbekistan”. Much of this euphoria was short-lived as relationships in the Central Asian region quickly unravel over the next few years. This was especially true in the case of the US relationship with Uzbekistan, which had become a critical strategic partner in the war on terror. The region’s former Soviet-era leaders came under increasing scrutiny and criticism for the lack of progress, and in some cases outright reversals, in the areas of human rights, democratization and economic reforms.

The US negotiated the right to use Karshi-Khanabad Air Base [aka K2] in 2001 to support military operations in Afghanistan. The DoD believed it would be able to use K2 for the indefinite future, and it treated the air base accordingly. In March 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdul-Aziz Kamilov signed the “United States-Uzbekistan Declaration on the Strategic Partnership and Cooperation Framework.” This declaration required Uzbekistan to intensify its democratic transformation, both politically and economically. Unfortunately, the Uzbek government never fulfilled any of its obligations under the declaration.

In fact, it exploited its relationship with the US while further oppressing its citizens. In 2002, President Islam Karimov arbitrarily extended his presidential term until 2007, much to the dismay of the West. By 2004, executive departments of the US government were pursuing divergent interests in Uzbekistan. The State Department rescinded $18 million in aid to Uzbekistan for human rights violations, while the Defense Department awarded it $33 million in weapons transfers and other military assistance.

With the immediate need for basing, over-flights and other support satisfied, the voices of those pushing for greater reform became louder. US criticism of the Karimov government in Uzbekistan increased substantially beginning in 2003 and throughout 2004. Other players, namely Russia and China, themselves gravely concerned about the West’s growing presence and influence, seized on the opportunities afforded by the discourse and aggressively sought to further their own positions.

Events in Uzbekistan in the spring of 2005 brought the already severely strained US-Uzbek relationship to the breaking point. On 13 May 2005, Uzbekistani troops opened fire on demonstrators in the town of Andijon. Reports of those killed varied significantly from 150 to over 500 killed. Credible sources put the death toll in the hundreds. The Uzbek government itself announced that its forces had killed 94 “terrorists.”10 US officials, initially slow to respond, finally joined an international chorus calling for an independent investigation.

Following the May 2005 massacre in Andijan of as many as 1,000 unarmed demonstrators protesting the conviction of 23 Uzbek businessmen by Uzbek security forces, the US demanded an international investigation into the incident - despite official Uzbek government protestations. As well, the Uzbek government probably decided it was not going to receive the promised US foreign aid due to its actions and lack of progress on the 2002 Declaration, hence it began imposing restrictions on US flight operations at K2.

Perceiving an impending fallout with Uzbekistan, the US facilitated the airlift of 439 Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan to Romania using K2 in late July 2005, under the auspices of the UN, and over the protests of the Uzbek government. (Most observers feared that if the refugees were returned to Uzbekistan, they would be detained and tortured by Uzbek security personnel.) The very next day, the Uzbek government delivered its ultimatum to the US to leave K2 within 180 days, in accordance with the 2002 Declaration. Within months, Uzbek President Karimov signed new friendship agreements with both Russia and China, while the US vacated K2.

Since mid-2007, the United States and Uzbekistan began to rebuild cooperation on issues of mutual concern, including security and economic relations, as well as political and civil society issues. By mid-2008 some sixty percent of aviation fuel necessary for Coalition operations in Afghanistan passed by rail through Uzbekistan. Ninety-nine percent of all of the fuel that Afghanistan's aviation forces used, and tons of bottled water for troops in Afghanistan each month, also transited Uzbekistan's territory. Uzbekistan was a vital and relatively secure logistical pipeline in support of operations in Afghanistan and offered the potential of becoming even more important given its favorable geographic position and transportation infrastructure and given continued instability in Pakistan.

The Government of Uzbekistan continued to invest considerable resources into improving and expanding its railroad infrastructure, and the state joint stock company Uzbekistan Railroad has upgraded many of its Soviet-inherited rail facilities and built new lines between Nukus and Navoi and between Karshi and Termez. Uzbekistan Railroad's lines terminate in Hayraton, Afghanistan in the northern Balkh Province, which provided easy and safe access to Bagram Airbase and other U.S./NATO operating points in eastern Afghanistan.

By 2009 Uzbekistan was playing an increasingly important role in US efforts to stabilize Afghanistan by permitting the transit by rail and road of non-lethal and non-military equipment across its borders in support of Coalition forces. Uzbekistan simplified the clearance process for U.S. use of the German Termez air bridge by adding the United States to the list of International Security Assistance Force nations approved for its use and by waiving the earlier requirement to submit diplomatic notes for each case.

In 2011, several high-level visits further strengthened relations, including Secretary Clinton's October 2011 visit. Uzbekistan has Central Asia's largest population and is important to U.S. interests in ensuring stability and security in the region. The FY 2012 budget included language that would allow the Secretary to waive current restrictions on granting U.S. military assistance to the Government of Uzbekistan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed the waiver in early 2012. This would open Uzbekistan to receiving FMF and IMET as well as other grant assistance in 2012. The waiver must be evaluated and renewed every 6 months.

U.S. government representatives directly engaged with the government on religious freedom, including during a July 2013 visit by a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor. Embassy and visiting U.S. officials met with representatives of religious groups, civil society, and government bodies, as well as relatives of prisoners, to discuss freedom of conscience and belief. Since November 2006, the Secretary of State has designated Uzbekistan a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.

During his 07 May 2014 visit, Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns "... thanked the Foreign Minister for Uzbekistan’s crucial role over the years, particularly in facilitating the Northern Distribution Network.... achieving the full potential of our partnership, will require continued open, candid, and constructive dialogue about issues important to the United States and Uzbekistan such as respect for the rights of citizens – including freedom of expression, assembly, and association, ending forced labor, ensuring impartial justice, good governance and pursuing democratic reform."



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