Press Conference

Press Conference
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Almaty, Kazakhstan
December 14, 2009

Assistant Secretary Blake:  Let me thank you all for coming again.  I've already made a statement to open our new Consulate General.  But I did want to say what a pleasure it is for me to be here in your beautiful city.  I'll be glad to take your questions. 

Question:  There was information today about the detention of the Kazakhstani Il-76 aircraft in Thailand with a batch of arms on its board. Can you comment on this information?  

Assistant Secretary Blake:  Thank you for your question.

We are very pleased that the government of Thailand acted in accordance with its obligation under UN Security Council resolutions to inspect the contents of this plane.  The investigation is still at a very preliminary stage so it would not be appropriate for me to comment on any aspect of that investigation.  I'm sure that the authorities of the government of Thailand will make appropriate announcements when they're ready to do so. 

Question:  Is it true that the aircraft was detained based on information provided by U.S. [intelligence] services?  

Assistant Secretary Blake:  I don't have any comment on that.  Again, I haven't been in Washington and I'm not sure of the details of this. 

Question:  How did the U.S. and Kazakhstani governments cooperate this year and how dynamically will be the investments into the economy of Kazakhstan developing next year? 

Assistant Secretary Blake:  As you say, the last year has been a very difficult year both for the United States and for Kazakhstan on the economic front.  President Obama has taken a number of important steps to help revive the American economy, to stabilize the American economy and put Americans back to work.  We believe that those steps are beginning to show results.  But the President's highest priority remains to put Americans back to work.  I know President Nazarbayev attaches equal importance to restoring the very strong growth that the Kazakhstani economy was experiencing before the recession.  We in the United States government look forward to doing everything we can to promote greater trade and development activities between our two countries.  

Question:  Can you highlight the topics of discussion during the business forum? Will it be like an anti-crisis meeting?  

Assistant Secretary Blake:  Many of you know that President Obama made a very important speech in Cairo in which he extended a hand of friendship to the Muslim world and said that America would like a new beginning with the Muslim world.  One of the concrete ways that we'd like to do more with the Muslim world is to hold an entrepreneur summit with Muslim entrepreneurs.  Our embassy [in Kazakhstan] has nominated a number of highly qualified entrepreneurs to participate in that summit.  I have the privilege today of meeting with them to discuss their activities and the ways that they think they can participate in this initiative.  I know these private sector representatives will make an important contribution to this overall effort. 

Question:  I'm from the Economist.  I have two questions for you. 

First one, over the weekend China's President was here in Kazakhstan to moderate part of the China gas pipeline.  I was wondering what is your view on the political and economic significance of this?  And how do you see Chinese inroads that have been made in the energy sector in Kazakhstan? 

Assistant Secretary Blake:  With respect to the new Chinese pipeline, the United States has always supported the development of multiple pipelines to export oil and gas from Central Asia.  We recognize that China has important and growing interests in this region and also growing energy demands.   

What was your second question? 

Question:  About the OSCE Chairmanship of Kazakhstan, you said the United States will do everything possible to make it a success. 

Assistant Secretary Blake:  Yes. 

Question:  Regarding the OSCE chairmanship of Kazakhstan. As you probably know, there has been a lot of criticism about Kazakhstan's chairmanship - democracy and human rights and [inaudible] and so on.  [Inaudible] said that the situation here has become significantly worse, rather than better.  Considering that, don't you think that Kazakhstan could potentially damage the [inaudible] OSCE [inaudible]? 

Assistant Secretary Blake:  The United States supported Kazakhstan's candidacy to become the first Chairman in Central Asia of the OSCE.  We welcomed the measures that Kazakhstan undertook to strengthen democratic freedoms in Kazakhstan as part of its chairmanship.  We also welcomed the undertaking of the government of Pakistan to ensure that progress is made in all three dimensions of the OSCE mandate during its chairmanship, particularly the human dimension.  We hope that Kazakhstan will continue to strengthen democracy and human rights in Kazakhstan during the course of its chairmanship. 

Question:  Will you raise the issues that journalists in Kazakhstan are in prison for their professional activity? I mean Ramazan Yesergepov was sentenced to three years of jail for publishing an article. Some newspapers are denied printing services and have to print their paper on a[n] [office]printer. Like Respublika, a popular newspaper is doesn't have access to its readers at present. Will you raise these issues at the meetings with our official representatives? 

Assistant Secretary Blake:  Thank you for that question. 

I don't want to get into the specific details of what I will be discussing with the government of Kazakhstan.  Let me say as a general matter the United States supports freedom of expression and freedom of the media not only in Kazakhstan but around the world. 

We are aware that the libel laws have been used as a way of curbing freedom of expression.  We believe that this should be a civil rather than a criminal matter as it is in many countries around the world.   

We also would support free use of the internet here in Kazakhstan, again, as we support around the world. 

Question:  On December 17, the opposition leaders are going to go on a hunger strike because there are disputes regarding the issue of national identity, following the example of the United States.  Do you think this type of comparison makes sense? 

Assistant Secretary Blake:  I'm not familiar with that particular case that you referred to.  But as a general rule we support the right of parties to express their views and in general we hope that they will be given, again, freedom of expression and allowed to express their views without any kind of harassment from the government. 

Question:  Will you visit other Central Asian countries. If yes, what issues you are going to discuss?  

Assistant Secretary Blake:  This is the only country in Central Asia I'm visiting on this particular trip.  I came from visits to Sri Lanka and India before I arrived in Kazakhstan.   

Question:  As far as I understood, the goal of your visit is more economic.  You seem to be avoiding political questions.  Is this perception right? 

Assistant Secretary Blake:  No, I wouldn't say that at all.  I'll be meeting for lunch later today with civil society members and I look forward to a very positive discussion with them about whatever concerns they have.  Then later today I will be traveling to Astana where I will be having meetings with the Foreign Minister and other leaders to discuss the full range of issues on our agenda. 

Question:  Recently the idea of having an OSCE summit in Astana was voiced.  What's the U.S. position on this, and what can we expect? 

Assistant Secretary Blake:  The U.S. position on this is that we have not yet taken a position on whether there should be a summit in the next year.  But we appreciate the efforts of the government of Kazakhstan to focus the OSCE and its chairmanship on the critical problem of Afghanistan.  As I said in my opening remarks, the United States deeply appreciates the support that Kazakhstan has provided to help stabilize Afghanistan.  We also hope that during the course of the chairmanship of Kazakhstan that progress will be made on all three dimensions of the OSCE mandate.  I'm sure this will be a topic of discussion when I meet with officials tomorrow in Astana. 

Question:  At the time of the visit of the Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan said the issue of President Obama's visit to our country was discussed.  At what stage is the development of this issue? 

Assistant Secretary Blake:  President Obama has not made any decisions about when or whether he might visit Kazakhstan.  But President Obama does appreciate very much the strong relations that we have with Kazakhstan. 

President Obama also looks forward to welcoming President Nazarbayev to the White House for the Global Nuclear Security Summit in April. 

Question:  Your new President gave orders regarding the Guantanamo prisoners. Is the U.S. government planning to give compensation to our prisoners who stayed there for five years without trial? 

Assistant Secretary Blake:  I am really not the person who is working on those specific issues, but we'll be glad to get an answer to your question on that. 

Question:  Recently the United States worked out a new strategy on Afghanistan. What will it mean for countries of Central Asia?  

Assistant Secretary Blake:  The primary focus of the President's decision to add 30,000 new troops is to accelerate the stabilization of Afghanistan.    That stabilization effort has many components to it.  First, the new troops will help to stabilize parts of Afghanistan, but also accelerate the training of the Afghan National Army so that it can assume responsibility for security in Afghanistan. 

Second, we are making a major effort in Afghanistan to help build up the economy, particularly the agricultural sector of Afghanistan.   

Third, we'll be pursuing an effort of reintegration so that members of the Taliban can be persuaded by the Afghan government and by tribal chiefs to abandon their support for the Taliban.   

Lastly, we understand that we cannot succeed, the international community cannot succeed in Afghanistan until Pakistan eliminates the sanctuaries and safe havens from which militants operate. 

Kazakhstan plays an extremely important role in all of these matters.  First, it has continued to facilitate the transit of non-lethal supplies into Afghanistan.  But it also has provided humanitarian assistance as well as important initiatives such as the announcement made by Foreign Minister Saudabayev to provide training for a thousand Afghan students here in Kazakhstan.   

We look forward to continuing to consult very closely with the government of Kazakhstan as we proceed on these important efforts. 

Question:  What non-lethal equipment do you mean?  

Assistant Secretary Blake:  That's simply various kinds of, again, food supplies and things like that for our troops and other coalition troops in Afghanistan.  [Inaudible] materials, things like that. 

Question:  First of all I would like to congratulate not only President Obama but the U.S. people on winning the Nobel Prize. But you mentioned about new troops in Afghanistan. But during presidential campaign Mr. Obama said about finishing the war in Iraq during his first or second years of presidency. What is the position of the White House on this issue in the light of the Nobel Prize?  

Assistant Secretary Blake:  I think the President addressed that very well in his speech that he gave on the occasion of his accepting of the Nobel Prize.   

With respect to your mention of Iraq, I think the President has followed through on his commitment to reduce the size of the American forces in Iraq and to train Iraqi forces so that they can assume responsibility for their own security.  In Afghanistan the President has said many times that we are not seeking to occupy Afghanistan, but again, we are seeking to train the Afghan National Forces, the Army and Police, so that they can assume responsibility for their own security.  

As I mentioned, the stabilization overall has many many other components to it, all of which we will be pursuing with equal vigor.  And even as American begins to withdraw troops in the summer of 2011, Secretary Gates has clarified that the pace and the scope of those withdrawals will depend very much on conditions on the ground.  The United States will retain a long-term commitment to Afghanistan.  

Let me thank you again for coming today and for covering this important ceremony.  I always appreciate the opportunity to talk with the press.  Thank you.