Hearing of the Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Subject: The Emerging Importance of the U.S. – Central Asia Partnership
Chaired by: Delegate Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa)
Witnesses: Robert O. Blake, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State,
Bureau of South and Central Asia Affairs, and
David Sedney, Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia
2172 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC
Wednesday, November 17, 2010, 3:00pm EDT
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: The subcommittee hearing will come to order. This is the subcommittee hearing on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment. The topic for discussion and dialogue this afternoon is "The Emerging Importance of the U.S.-Central Asia Partnership."
My good friend, the ranking minority member, at this point in time at least, is on his way.
And I would like to preface my remarks in terms of this being the last hearing that I'm going to chair in my capacity as chairman of this Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment. And I wanted especially for my good friend, the gentleman from Illinois, to be here so I -- so that I could have some choice words to say about our great relationship in the past years that he has served as the ranking member of this subcommittee, my good friend Congressman Don Manzullo from Illinois.
So, as you know, this -- a lot of things have happened in the course of the past couple of weeks. I do offer my congratulations to the -- this is how beautiful democracy is. We didn't have to go through a revolution, or a state of war, or whatever it is, to transition the change of government, at least in this important body, the makeup of our democracy, and that my good friends on the other side of the aisle have regained the majority of this house, and accordingly they will also control the various aspects of how this institution is going to be administered and how it's going to be operating.
So I do want to offer my sincere apologies to Assistant Secretary Blake and Mr. Sedney from the Defense Department for your patience and forbearance in being with us, and the problems that we have had in setting this afternoon's schedule. As you know, we've had a little Democratic Caucus organizational meeting this morning and we have just completed that meeting, and so I do thank you sincerely for taking the time to be with us here this afternoon.
I want to say that it's been my privilege to work closely with my good friend, whom I believe will be the new chairman of this subcommittee when he, when they reorganize -- that, again, is my good friend Mr. Manzullo -- to take up the chairmanship of this subcommittee. I want to say that even though we have not agreed on all the issues that have been discussed and debated in this subcommittee, but I have the utmost respect for his opinions, the positions that he has taken, and some of the issues that we have engaged upon.
And this is what makes this democracy so beautiful, that we are free to engage in dialogue, and expressing differences of opinions about given issues, how they impact our national policies, and most important of all, providing for the welfare of our fellow Americans. Being a member of this committee now for almost 22 years, it's a -- one of the most enriching experiences of my life.
And I am going to begin our hearing this afternoon by having this opening statement that I have prepared for the past 100 years -- (laughter) -- so please bear with me, Mr. Secretary and Mr. Sedney, since this is my last hurrah. I sincerely ask -- (inaudible) -- might make some points, I don't know. But at any rate, this is the final hearing to be held by the subcommittee of the 111th Congress during my tenure as chairman.
I'm especially pleased to welcome you, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert Blake, who will testify today about the emerging importance of the United States and Central Asia partnership. I admire Assistant Secretary Blake and the work he is doing to strengthen our relationship with Central Asia. And I'm appreciative that he served as our keynote speaker last year in November when Ranking Member Buck McKeon of the armed services committee and I kicked off the Congressional Caucus on Central Asia, which we established to highlight the importance of Central Asia to U.S. security, energy and economic interests.
I was first introduced to the challenging -- challenges facing Central Asia through my friendship with His Excellency, Kanat Saudabayev, who now serves as the foreign minister and secretary of state for the Republic of Kazakhstan, as well as the chairperson in office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, but who once served as ambassador of Kazakhstan to the United States for more than six-and-a-half years. My friendship with Foreign Minister Saudabayev, an association that's spanned almost a decade now, and because of him I have come to appreciate President Nursultan Nazarbayev's leadership in championing nuclear disarmament among possessor states and preventing proliferation to new states.
From 1949 to 1991, the former Soviet Union conducted nearly 500 nuclear tests in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, and exposed more than 1.5 million Kazakhs to nuclear radiation. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan was left with the world's fourth-largest nuclear arsenal and the second-largest nuclear test site. While Kazakhstan could have emerged as a nuclear superpower and used its position to resolve the financial problems of a new and struggling nation, President Nazarbayev was among the first to recognize and neutralized a dangerous threat posed by the nuclear arsenal Kazakhstan inherited from the former Soviet Union. Despite threats from the Kremlin, President Nazarbayev supported the Nunn-Lugar program in its infancy and voluntarily dismantled a nuclear arsenal which was larger than the combined nuclear arsenals of Great Britain, France and China.
As a Pacific Islander, I have a special affinity for the people of Kazakhstan because, from 1946 to 1958, the United States detonated 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, including the first hydrogen bomb, or what was then known as the Bravo shot, in 1954, which was 1,300 times more powerful than the bomb we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The U.S. nuclear testing program exposed the people in the Marshall Islands to severe health problems and genetic abnormalities for generations to come.
The U.S. nuclear testing program in the Marshall Islands also set a precedent for France to use the islands of the Pacific for its own testing program. Oh no, don't test it in France, not even in Paris. Take it where there's a bunch of natives sitting out in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific to do their nuclear testing. And for some 30 years the French government detonated approximately 218 nuclear devices -- nuclear bombs up on the air, on the surface, and below the surface of these atolls known as Mururoa and Fangataufa. These atolls were about a couple of hundred miles away from the main island of Tahiti in French Polynesia.
In Kazakhstan, the cumulative power of explosions from nuclear tests conducted by the former Soviet Union is believed to be equal to the power of 2,500 explosions of the type of bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. Six years ago I felt a deep sense of obligation, as a member of Congress who had visited the nuclear test sites in the Marshall Islands and Tahiti, to also visit the Semipalatinsk test site in Kazakhstan. During my visit, and at the invitation from President Nazarbayev, I learned that I was the first American legislator to set foot on ground zero in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, and to this day ground zero is still radioactive.
During my time in Semipalatinsk, I also met and visited with the bedridden victims of nuclear testing, and I continue to be haunted by their suffering. However -- I hate emotions -- I'm grateful to my colleagues who stood with me during the 109th Congress in passing House Resolution 905, which called upon the administration, the U.S. administration to establish a joint working group with the government of Kazakhstan to assist in assessing the environmental damage and health effects caused by the former Soviet Union's nuclear testing in Kazakhstan.
And I am hopeful that the Obama administration will follow up on this resolution and establish this long-overdue working group.
Currently, the Obama administration has listed five objectives for enhanced U.S. engagement in Central Asia. These objectives include maximizing cooperation for coalition efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan with increased emphasis on the use of airbases and the transit of troops and supplies to Afghanistan along the Northern Distribution Network, increasing the development and diversification of region's energy resources, promoting good governance and respect for human rights, fostering competitive market economies, and preventing state failures in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan by enhancing food security assistance.
Signs of this enhanced engagement includes a recent meeting between President Obama and President Nazarbayev at the nuclear security summit held in Washington, D.C., in April of this year and U.S. support for the OSCE summit which will be held in Astana, Kazakhstan on December 1 and 2 next month of this year.
Three years ago, under the Bush administration, I spearheaded -- or at least my colleagues and I spearheaded an effort in Congress calling upon the United States to support Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE, and I'm including this September 17, 2007, letter to the U.S. secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, for the record, recognizing, as David Wilshire, head of the delegation of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe noted, that building a democracy is a long and hard task. I felt that the U.S. could offer a gesture of good will by assisting Kazakhstan in its bid to chair the OSCE considering that Kazakhstan voluntarily worked with the U.S. to dismantle the world's fourth-largest nuclear arsenal and has been a key ally in the war against terrorism.
I am pleased that the U.S. finally supported Kazakhstan's bid for 2010, and while there will always be critics intent to setting Kazakhstan back in its attempt to move the OSCE forward, all 56 member states unanimously voted in favor of Kazakhstan's chairmanship. I believe they did so in recognition of the bold steps President Nazarbayev has taken to bring Kazakhstan out from under the yoke of communism. Of course, there is work left to be done, but according to polling data from an independent firm hired by the U.S. embassy, in Kazakhstan during the Bush administration, 90 percent of the people of Kazakhstan support President Nazarbayev and are pleased with the work he is doing. And more than 63 percent of the people of Kazakhstan have a favorable opinion of the United States.
Since 9/11, and regarding U.S.-coalition operations in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan has allowed overflight and transshipment to assist U.S. efforts. U.S.-Kazak accords were signed in 2002, and the emergency use of Kazakhstan's Almaty Airport and on other military-to- military relations.
The Kazak parliament approved sending military engineers to Iraq in May 2003. And in his April 2010 meeting with President Obama, President Nazarbayev agreed to facilitate U.S. military air flights along a new transpolar route that transits Kazakhstan to Afghanistan.
Now, Kazakhstan is the first post-Soviet, first predominantly Muslim and the first Central Asian nation to serve in the top leadership role of the OSCE, an organization known for promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law. As chair of the OSCE, Kazakhstan will also host the Astana Summit. The Astana Summit, like Kazakhstan's chairmanship of the OSCE, is historic. It is historic.
Earlier this year, my colleagues and I spearheaded an effort calling upon the United States to stand with Kazakhstan in support of an OSCE summit. I've also mentioned making this January 26, 2010 letter to President Obama as part of the record while expressing my appreciation to the Obama administration and especially to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Blake, who are expected to represent the United States at the Astana Summit.
It is my hope that I might also be there to witness this historic occasion. I cannot promise it, but it is my hope.
The Astana Summit has been organized at the initiative of President Nazarbayev and will be the first OSCE meeting of heads of state to take place in more than 10 years. It has been 10 years since the OSCE held a security summit, and the world has changed drastically since then as a direct result of 9/11.
While I have serious reservations about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan aims to use the OSCE chair and summit to press for a resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan. And for this reason, I am pleased that the United States is supporting the Astana Summit. However, given the serious importance of the summit to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, I hope that President Obama will make it his top priority to attend. His presence will send the right signal to our allies in Central Asia who are also putting their lives on the line for us.
At this point, I want to commend Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Latvia for providing supply routes to support U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan. Known as the Northern Distribution Network, these operations are critical to coalition efforts. Simply put, without the support of Central Asia, we have no hope in Afghanistan.
While I would hope that our partnership with Central Asia would extend past the war in Afghanistan in both breadth and depth, for over 100 years, people of Central Asia have lived without basic freedoms. And in my humble opinion, meetings with the people and leaders of these countries, they, like us, want to continue their march towards democracy. And it is my sincere hope to do what I can in my capacity as a member of this great institution.
Again, it's my honor to welcome our witnesses, including the Honorable Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, and Mr. David Sedney, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense for Kazakhstan -- I mean, for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia.
I do want to thank them both for their service to our country, especially to all our men and women in the armed forces. I also will always extend to them my highest regards. As a Vietnam veteran, I cannot say enough about the sacrifices that the families of our men and women in uniform make for our nation. And I think at times, we just don't say enough of it to express how much we appreciate what they do and the service they rendered for our country.
Before giving the opportunity to our key witnesses -- and I am so happy and very honored that I have my good friend, the ranking member of this subcommittee whom I sincerely hope will be the chairman of this subcommittee in the coming weeks -- my good friend, the gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Manzullo, I want to say that, before giving him the time for his opening statement, I just want to say for the record that it has been, indeed, my personal honor to have worked with you for all these years.
And as I said earlier in my remarks, we have not always agreed on the issues that we've discussed and debated upon, but the mutual respect for each other, I want to say, is second to none. And I want to thank you, sir, for all the help and the times that we've went through, up and down whatever way, it's always been my honor. And I yield now to my --
REPRESENTATIVE MANZULLO (R-IL): This is not a farewell party, you know -- (laughter) -- but I have tremendous mutual respect for my chairman and look forward to working with you. And I commend you for having a hearing on the countries that have essentially been forgotten but are absolutely critical to the future, not only of our country but the stability of the entire region, and I look forward to the testimony of the witnesses.
Thank you, Chairman.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: I thank the gentleman from Illinois.
It's always good that I now would like to introduce our distinguished witnesses this afternoon. Assistant Secretary Blake is a senior officer with the Foreign Service -- officer who has served previously as ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives; also deputy chief of mission to New Delhi, India. Served also in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria -- my gosh. (Laughs.)
Mr. Blake earned his degree at Harvard, also a master's degree in Johns Hopkins University, and appointed now as our Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs since last year. Also with us, Mr. Samuel (sic) Sedney is the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia and the office of assistant secretary of Defense of East Asia and Pacific Affairs. Mr. Sedney was deputy assistant secretary two years, and currently in this capacity before serving in the Department of Defense spent five years as a house husband in Bern, Switzerland -- wow, that's a real tough task there for Mr. Sedney to do -- a graduate of Princeton University and the Suffolk School of Law, attended Louisiana State University School of Law where he studied law of the seas, and a very distinguished career for both of these gentlemen to testify. And again, I want to say how much I deeply appreciate both of you making the effort to come and testify before the subcommittee.
I've just -- the staff has just given me a note that Secretary Sedney has to leave at 4:30. What do we have here? Is it okay with you, Secretary Blake, if we give your friend here his five minutes and then we can just kick him out after that?
Well, why don't we start with Secretary Blake? We still have time. I'll tell you when it's 4:30, Mr. Sedney, and then we can do that. Thank you. Mr. Blake, please proceed.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I appreciate all of your opening remarks, and let me at the outset thank you so much for your leadership of this subcommittee while I've been assistant secretary. It's been a real pleasure to work with you, and I can tell you everybody at the State Department and the Obama administration appreciates the energy and dedication that you have brought to helping to enhance our cooperation and our engagement with Central Asia. You mentioned your leadership in establishing a Central Asia caucus, but you've also been a frequent traveler to the region and have really helped to raise the profile of this very important country and, of course, we wish you well and look forward to continuing to work with you. And of course, to Mr. -- with Mr. Manzullo and his colleagues as they enter into the majority.
REPRESENTATIVE MANZULLO: We're not leaving. (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I have a longer statement for the record. With your permission I'll --
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: Without objection both of your statements will be made part of the record, and if you have any related materials that you want to submit for the record, also, they will be.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you so much. Mr. Chairman, Central Asia, as you say, lies at a very critical strategic crossroads, bordering Afghanistan, China, Russia and Iran, which is why the United States wants to continue to expand our engagement and our cooperation with this critical region. We have identified five main priorities for our engagement in Central Asia: first, to assist coalition efforts in Afghanistan; to increase the development of the region's energy resources and diversification of supply routes; to encourage political liberalization and enhance respect for human rights; to foster competitive market economies and openings for our businesses; and also to increase the capacity of states to govern themselves effectively and serve the needs of their citizens.
Mr. Chairman, we don't see ourselves in competition for influence with any other country, nor do we accept that the five Central Asian countries constitute an exclusive zone of interests for any country. To the contrary, we want to cooperate more with Russia, China and others to address the critical challenges and produce some more durable stability and more reliable partners for everyone.
Central Asia has in fact been an area of common ground for us to engage with Russia and to further the reset of our relations with Russia, especially regarding Kyrgyzstan, where they have really been key partners. In order to pursue our goals, Mr. Chairman, we've developed in partnership with each of the countries in the region structured annual bilateral consultations that I lead to elevate, enhance and energize our dialogue with each of the countries of Central Asia. So let me just briefly highlight some of the key issues with each of these countries.
Starting with Kyrgyzstan, the situation in the Kyrgyz Republic remains of vital interest to the United States. As you know, Mr. Chairman, on October 10th, the Kyrgyz Republic held Central Asia's first truly free parliamentary elections in which the outcome is not known in advance. And we're now encouraging the leaders of the five parties there that qualify for seats to cooperate to form an inclusive representative government.
The United States played a very active role in facilitating this democratic achievement through our assistance programs and grants to the Kyrgyz government and civil society and our participation in the election-monitoring mission. At the same time, we are supporting the international commission to investigate the violence that took place in June in southern Kyrgyzstan. This commission is headed by Kimmo Kiljunen, a member of the Finnish Parliament. We're also continuing to support an OSCE initiative to improve public security, particularly in the south, to assist in the urgent task of restoring mutual trust and preventing further conflict in that important country.
Kyrgyzstan also remains an important partner in our efforts in Afghanistan. The Manas Transit Center represents a key contribution by the Kyrgyz Republic to the efforts of the international coalition to provide security for the Afghan people.
Turning to Kazakhstan, I appreciate your comments on Kazakhstan, Mr. Chairman. As you say, our relations with Kazakhstan are probably our deepest and broadest of any in Central Asia, and since you mentioned it I'd like to particularly recognize the recent completion of the long-term effort to safely shut down Kazakhstan's BN-350 plutonium production reactor, secure the spent fuel that it produced and then to transport that fuel to a secure facility. That process has now been completed and marks a real milestone in our nonproliferation cooperation, and I commend Kazakhstan for that.
As you say, Mr. Chairman, Kazakhstan has also been a strong supporter of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, but really the spotlight is right now on Astana for another reason -- because it is the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, and Kazakhstan is about to host the first OSCE summit in 11 years in Astana on December 1st and 2nd. We think that Kazakhstan has done a very credible job as OSCE chairman-in-office, especially dealing with the situation in Kyrgyzstan where the OSCE has really been at the forefront of efforts to promote peace, democracy and reconciliation.
We're also pleased that Kazakhstan has agreed to follow the example of past summits and allow full access by NGOs and permit NGOs to organize a parallel event on November 28th and November 29th. We also encourage Kazakhstan to continue to improve its human rights record and to uphold the commitments it made in taking on this chairmanship.
Mr. Chairman, Secretary Clinton plans to lead the U.S. delegation to the OSC summit and we hope that to be successful the summit should produce two key documents -- first, a Helsinki Final Act 35th anniversary statement that reaffirms all those commitments, and also an ambitious substantive action plan to guide future work of the OSCE. And of course, Mr. Chairman, we'd be delighted to welcome you as part of the U.S. delegation in Astana.
Turning to Uzbekistan, as with other countries, the United States has also increased our engagement with that important country. We have a very full agenda of security, economic and human rights issues that we are working with them on. Uzbekistan is a particularly key partner for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. It's providing electricity to keep the lights on in Kabul, it has facilitated transit for essential supplies to coalition forces and it's helped to construct a very important rail line inside Afghanistan.
We've seen an improved relationship with Uzbekistan but some challenges remain. We continue to encourage the Uzbeks to address significant human rights concerns such as ending forced child labor, opening up the media environment and demonstrating greater tolerance for religious activities.
And Tajikistan, as you mentioned, Mr. Chairman, is one of the poorest countries in the world and a fragile state in a volatile neighborhood. Recent skirmishes between the government and the former civil war combatants as well as security threats, such as the August 25th prison break, really reflect the continued tensions in that country. And the United States is working to strengthen law enforcement, border security, increased food security, as you mentioned, strengthen health and education and encourage respect for human rights, particularly religious and media freedom.
Last but not least, in Turkmenistan we continue to make progress in facilitating that country's gradual opening up and its efforts to move toward reform and greater respect for human rights. We also appreciate Turkmenistan's humanitarian help in neighboring Afghanistan through its provision of discounted electricity.
As part of our first-ever annual bilateral consultations in Ashgabat in June, I led the first-ever U.S. business mission to Turkmenistan, and this strengthened an important commercial partnership with a nation that now holds the world's fourth-largest natural gas reserves.
Mr. Chairman, in conclusion, this administration considers Central Asia to be an important pillar of our security policy and regional U.S. interests. We recognize that the pace of change is often slow and that our programs should focus on long-term, meaningful results. But through our invigorated policy dialogue and our engagement, we aim to strengthen our ties with these important countries and their people and thereby advance U.S. interests in this strategically important region.
And again, I thank you for your personal engagement.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: Thank you, Mr. [Deputy Defense Assistant] Secretary.
Secretary Sedney, for your statement.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY SEDNEY: Mr. Chairman, Representative Manzullo, thank you very much for this opportunity to speak with you regarding Central Asia policy.
Assistant Secretary Blake has laid out for you the overarching goals and the efforts to achieve them, part of the administration's Central Asia policy. I will focus my remarks briefly on the defense and security aspects of this relationship.
As you said, Mr. Chairman, the focus of the Department of Defense's efforts in Central Asia today in the short term are the transport of goods and equipment and personnel through the ground and air lines of communication through Central Asia. As you said, these are critical to support the efforts of our men and women in Afghanistan who are engaged in the vital effort to -- that is necessary as we all work together to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda, prevent its return to Afghanistan, and ensure that Pakistan -- and ensure the success of Pakistan as well.
The northern distribution network that you mentioned, in addition to which is purely commercial, additionally the Department of Defense conducts the military overflights over most countries in Central Asia. We have close relations with each transit country and are working to increase the overflights and the ground lines of transportation.
You referenced the agreements with Kazakhstan, that agreement that -- with Kazakhstan that will allow in the near future to take advantage of the overflight -- the overflight -- transport overflight that you mentioned, Chairman, is a major step forward, and we appreciate that.
Also importantly, we have access to the Manas training center -- or the Manas transit center in Kyrgyzstan, through which virtually of our combat troops and many of our -- many of our allies transit on their way into and out of Afghanistan. We greatly appreciate the willingness of the Kyrgyz government and the Kyrgyz people to continue their support in this common -- in our common struggle, and we look forward to maintaining this important link in our logistical network.
It is through such cooperation that we are able to make not just Afghanistan more stable and Pakistan more safe, but also Central Asia more secure and protect the American homeland and the safety and security of our allies around the world.
But beyond our focus on the immediate goals in Afghanistan, we also have long-term security assistance goals in Central Asia. Our security assistance focuses on the professionalization of the military, the border guards, counternarcotics forces and counterterrorism forces.
We've seen a great deal of progress in this area. The George Marshall Center in Germany has trained close to 1,000 Central Asian security professionals to date, for example. Similarly, our National Guard State Partnership Program has used our citizen soldiers to help work on civil-military relations throughout Central Asia. With -- through the provision of the training that I mentioned, we are helping to build modern counterterrorist peacekeeping and de-mining capabilities, as these countries continue in moving beyond the Soviet- era military norms.
We also work in the areas of humanitarian assistance to help to enhance the capacity of a number of the local governments in Central Asia, working closely with our partners in the State Department, USAID, and the NGO community. Humanitarian assistance programs from the Department of Defense have included such things as the -- a deworming program for Kyrgyz citizens, renovating schools and orphanages, donating buses and school supplies, to name a few.
We also have regular high-level consultations, both on the civilian and military side of the Department of Defense. Most recently, General Mattis, the CENTCOM commander, was in Central Asia, and he is still in the region as we speak. The -- our TRANSCOM commander has also visited multiple times.
The Department of Defense joins and supports and participates in the annual bilateral consultations that Assistant Secretary Blake chairs and we think that is a key effort in moving our relationships with the Central Asian countries forward across the board.
Central Asia, as both you, Mr. Chairman, and -- mentioned, is part of a larger region that includes Afghanistan and Pakistan. The growth of the northern distribution network offers the prospect of a continuing economic and commercial foundation that will help growth in trade and investment across national boundaries and holds the prospect of helping those countries move into the mainstream of world trade and commerce.
While that is not the purpose of what we're doing in the northern distribution network, it holds the prospect of having that in the -- in the future.
I would like to close by echoing your comment, Mr. Chairman, regarding the sacrifices of our men and women. I was just in Afghanistan visiting many of our troops. They depend on the goods and services that are provided through the northern distribution network, through the partnership of our Central Asia countries, and we are committed to continuing that effort and expanding it in the future.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: Thank you very much. I appreciate your statements and observations on some of the issues. I -- because you've got a schedule problem there, Secretary Sedney, I just have some questions I wanted to check with you.
I think it seems that our policy towards Central Asia seems to be focused entirely on our current efforts in our involvement in the war in Afghanistan, and is for security purposes primarily. Am I correct on that?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY SEDNEY: From the Department of Defense perspective, that is our number-one priority. In terms of our overall relationships with Central Asia, they go much beyond the security area. And as Assistant Secretary Blake laid out, we have -- we have a wide range of enduring interests. I'll defer to Assistant Secretary Blake to do that, but I would --
It's -- it is true from the Department of Defense perspective that our focus is on the support for the effort in Afghanistan, but that is accompanied by the longer-term security assistance projects, including a variety of training efforts in areas from counterterrorism to counternarcotics that are building capabilities in those countries that are important for reasons well beyond Afghanistan.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: Well, we all know that -- the demise of the Soviet Union, these countries were formerly basically colonies of the Soviet Union for some 100 years before they finally got their freedoms as separate and sovereign entities, and the -- at least in this committee. And I know that when we talk about Central Asia, I would say my guess is 95 percent of the American people don't even know where these countries are located, simply because they've all been part of the Soviet empire and there's been hardly, really, any engagement process economically, socially or anything.
And I just wanted to know the latest problems that we're faced with in our current policy. And I realize that our reasons for being in Afghanistan is to prevent the Taliban or the al Qaeda from coming to our shores and kill our people. Isn't that basically the reason why we're fighting this war?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY SEDNEY: Exactly. Exactly, Mr. Chairman. As the president said, our national goal is to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda to prevent -- and to prevent its return to the safe havens in Afghanistan --
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: And in the process we've only had a real sense of expertise, or even understanding the region, in a very, very limited way -- I'd say that maybe only 20 years or 30 years of experience of engagement with these countries that we know very little about.
Now, we can all claim expertise in whatever it is, but this is the same problem we had when we got involved in Vietnam. I would say that probably 99 percent of the American people never knew that countries like Vietnam and Laos and Cambodia were colonies of the French. And the policies that we enunciated and what we did -- boy, it was a real jumble there, sending a half -- 500,000 of our soldiers, 60,000 dead as a result. And the policy can be debated to this day.
My concern, have we learned any lessons from Vietnam? Does sending military really is going to solve some of the more fundamental issues and problems that we're faced in countries like Afghanistan, or even in Pakistan, for that matter?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY SEDNEY: In terms of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr. Chairman, I can assure you that as we are working to achieve the goals the president has laid out, our strategy is very much a combined civil- military whole-of-government strategy and both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, our partnership with the Department of State, the other agencies of the United States government, and the wider international community are key parts of that. It is not just a military solution. It is a -- it is a -- and I would point out to you that the government of Kazakhstan, for example, has made a major commitment to educate a large number of Afghans in Kazakh universities. And that's something we very much appreciate. It's a kind of thing that is necessary as we move forward with a military effort and bringing security in Afghanistan is key.
But the follow-on efforts to build capacity, to educate the population, are vital to ensuring that Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven and that the prospects for that require a regional approach. And so we are working with the countries of Central Asia. The countries of Central Asia recognize the need to work. I've been visiting Central Asia and working on Central Asia for over 15 years and every time I travel to the Central Asian capitals, I find that the issue of helping --
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: Can you get closer to your mike? I don't know if you're --
DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY SEDNEY: I'm sorry. The issue of -- every time I visit the capitals of Central Asia, the issue of helping Afghanistan succeed is very high on the agenda and the partnership we have with those countries, even despite their limited resources, as Assistant Secretary Blake said, the government of Kazakhstan is working with us in Afghanistan and we continue -- we look to continue to increase that partnership.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: I make this observation, and I never claim expertise in military tactics or in any way understanding, but I also read something to the effect that Afghanistan has been known as a graveyard for empires. Alexander the Great could never conquer Afghanistan, neither the British, Soviets were there for 10 years, they got kicked out of Afghanistan. So I'm trying to get into the psychology of this whole thing, to the fact that there are 12 million of the people that live -- the Pashtuns -- that live in Afghanistan and within that 12 million population of Pashtuns are the 27,000 Taliban that we have sent about 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban who are supposedly our enemy.
But what makes it even more complicated is to the effect that the so-called borderline between Pakistan and Afghanistan, there are 27 million more Pashtuns that live in Pakistan. And it is without -- I don't think you have to be a rocket scientist to figure out why we couldn't get Osama Bin Laden for all these years, simply because of the Taliban being able to protect them and he travels freely between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And whatever failures in our policies, that the most powerful nation in the world could not even capture Osama Bin Laden now for almost 10 years.
So I'm a little frustrated to the extent in wanting to define exactly -- if we're going to put our men and women in harm's way, I'd like to believe that this is the only option remaining for our country to do this in fighting. If there could be any other options or any other possibilities and the involvement of these Asian countries that I felt in the four years that I've had to travel to these countries, it's a totally different psychology in how we look and say that these 27,000 Taliban and a couple hundred al Qaeda is the very reason why we're involved in this area.
And please, I'm not putting any personal things against you. I just want to get a better understanding -- what some $130 billion we're about to expend for having our military forces to be there in Afghanistan. How does this relate to a better, broader picture in terms of how we deal with Central Asia? We're using these countries mainly for making it more convenient for our security forces that they need, resources, our soldiers and all of that, but is it just that only or are there programs serious enough on how we could better develop an economic, social, educational, and all these things that these Central Asian countries really have a need for?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY SEDNEY: Mr. Chairman, on Afghanistan there is a fundamental difference between the empires that you mentioned and the United States of America. We are not an empire. We are not seeking to conquer Afghanistan. We are working with Afghanistan to build up an independent, sovereign Afghanistan and sufficient security forces for Afghanistan to be able to protect itself, defend its sovereignty and prevent itself from becoming a safe haven for the al Qaeda as it was before September 11, 2001.
To that end, the key focus of our effort in Afghanistan is building up the Afghan security forces, the Afghan National Army. Over the last year, we've had extraordinary success in building up the Afghan National Army. In the recent military operations around Kandahar, over 60 percent of the forces have been Afghan National Army forces, a sharp increase even from the operations in Helmand earlier this year. But as President Obama has said, the United States is going to start a transition in the summer of 2011 and as President Karzai has said, the objective is to have Afghan forces in the lead, in the security area, in all areas of Afghanistan by 2014. We're committed to that. We are not building an empire. We are working with our partners.
You made some points about the Pashtuns. I have worked in Afghanistan for many years. I've worked on Afghanistan. I have many, many close friends and colleagues who are Pashtuns. There are many Pashtuns in the Afghan National Army. According to both anecdotal and polling evidence, over 90 percent of Pashtuns do not want the Taliban to rule them. We should never make the mistake of identifying the Taliban --
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: Please restate that again, because I think a lot of --
DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY SEDNEY: Over 90 percent --
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: -- the American people don't know this.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY SEDNEY: Over 90 percent of the Pashtuns don't want the Taliban to rule them. Pashtuns from President Karzai, who's a Pashtun, to Minister Wardak, who's a Pashtun and the minister of defense, throughout the Afghan government to Governor Wesa of Kandahar who I just met a couple weeks ago down in Kandahar. These are Pashtuns who are putting their lives on the line, the lives of their family, the lives of their children because they know that what the Taliban will bring back is oppression to Afghanistan and terrorism behind it.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: Would it be safe to say that as far as the Department of Defense is concerned, the involvement of these Central Asian countries are very, very critical --
DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY SEDNEY: (Inaudible) --
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: -- in terms of our operations.
MR. : -- to the success of our operations is, as you've said, sir, and as I thank you for saying, is very critical to the success of our operations to defend the American homeland.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: Okay. Mr. Sedney, I know you've got a schedule so if you need to leave, you're --
DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY SEDNEY: I apologize for that. I could stay for another 10 minutes. I could stay until 4:40.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: Good. Stick around. Secretary Blake --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Let me just jump in on your question of, are we only focusing on Afghanistan? I would just like to assure that you that that is really not the case. As I said, the purpose of these annual bilateral consultations that we set up was to engage each of these countries on the full range of interests on both our agenda and on their agenda, and to do so in a very comprehensive way and in a very practical way to set concrete targets that we are moving on and making progress. So with each of these countries we have two days of talks, so, you know, imagine over -- that's basically 16 hours of talks that go through every single thing on our agenda and it's very, very practically oriented.
The other thing we're doing, Mr. Chairman, is we're setting up civil society and business components to these, as well, so that to the maximum extent possible our government-to-government talks are informed by the American people and our various constituents that care about these issues.
So the other point I want to make, Mr. Chairman, is that the Central Asians themselves welcome this increased engagement by the United States. As you say, the Russians have always had the predominant influence in Central Asia, but that's beginning to change, and I think that, you know, with the reset of relations between the United States and Russia that's opened up a little bit of space for the Central Asians to do more with us as well. And they've really jumped into that space and I think welcomed that engagement. And I'd also like to say that, you know, the Russians themselves have welcomed a greater U.S. engagement. We've -- I think one of the real hallmarks of our efforts over the last year has been improved cooperation and coordination with the Russians. And you saw that in Kyrgyzstan, but you're going to see it more on things like counternarcotics and indeed in Afghanistan.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: One critical area that in my experience in visiting and meeting with the leaders of the Central Asian countries, Mr. Secretary, is education.
We currently have in the United States 690,000 foreign students attending American colleges and universities. And I'm curious how many students attend American colleges and universities from Central Asia at this point in time.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don't have that figure off the top of my head, but it's small. But I can certainly get that --
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: Well, unfortunately -- and I hope my good friend from Illinois will take note of this -- that if it's their intention to cut the budget on our foreign assistance program, this is one area that I sincerely hope -- to me, in my discussions with the leaders of these Central Asian countries, Mr. Secretary, I always believe that education is the salvation of these people and their leaders. And if they're limited in their capacity to provide a young generation of up and coming members of these different countries to come to our country to get a good education, then I think we're going to be in for a long haul. And I really believe that it's the kind of investment that I always feel -- the greatest contributions that the United States can give and share with the good people of these countries is educational opportunities for the young people.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I couldn't agree with you more, Mr. Chairman. I think part of the reason -- there are several reasons why there aren't more Central Asians. First of all, there's a language barrier, where many of them don't speak sufficiently good English to be able to compete and qualify for American universities. Also, there's of course the distance and, you know, it's expensive to travel and to go to school in the United States. But you know, also in some cases, there are restrictions on the ability of people to travel in places like Turkmenistan. So we're working with those governments.
But we're also working inside these countries, Mr. Chairman, to expand English language training, because we think that is something that just has a huge and broad positive impact across the entire relationship. We're also working on, you know, programs like FLEX that provide more high school students with an opportunity to go to the United States for shorter periods of time, and be exposed to the United States. And we're helping to develop English-language universities inside Central Asia.
A very good example of that is in Kazakhstan, where there is a new full-time English-language Kazakh university that has been set up, and it has cooperation with, I think, seven different American universities right now. So that's another terrific way to build sort of the American educational ties and eventually expose those students to our way of thinking and also, hopefully, to encourage them to do more studying in the United States.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: And especially also given the fact that we've only established diplomatic relations with these countries only in the course of 20 years.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: So it's an entirely different challenge, not only for the State Department, but even for the American people to understand, who are these people?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: That's right.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: And when you know that so much of great civilizations have come from this region -- especially -- in fact, when I first met Ambassador Kanat Saudabayev, he thought I was a Kazakh, and I said, no, I'm not a Kazakh; I'm a Polynesian, whatever that means. Some idiot defined us as Polynesians. Supposedly we come from many islands.
But I wanted to say that my -- given experience in being exposed and having to travel to these countries, I couldn't find a people more caring and more interested in wanting to know more about America. They have tremendous potential of mineral resources contained, but they just don't have the technology, the ability, to transition themselves from being communists in all these years.
And sometimes, I think some of our own colleagues in the United States demand as if these people have to be full democracies like America. It took us over 150 years to give African-Americans the right to vote, and now we expect these countries to be right up to par with what the democracy should be. And I've always said, I think we need to be a little more circumspective on the difficulties that these people are confronted with.
Situation in Tajikistan -- I know this has always been a little rivalry between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan; one has the electricity and the other one has the water. Are we making any efforts to try to resolve this problem that always seems to be -- I would think that with our resources, we should be able to give assistance. Can you comment on this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Sure. We are making quiet efforts, Mr. Chairman. I'd say one of the biggest differences between those two countries is on this issue of water, and specifically, on the question of the Rogun hydroelectric facility in Tajikistan, which the Uzbeks have a great many concerns about. They are fearful that this is going to be built in a seismically active zone. As the downstream country, they're worried about potential arbitrary actions by Tajikistan that could cut off their water. So we have supported an effort by the World Bank to undertake a feasibility study of this, to do it in a very fair and balanced way, to look at all these different equities and to make some recommendations about how to move forward on this. And I think the World Bank has a lot of very good experience in this area. As you know, they've been very active in the whole Indus water area as well, between India and Pakistan. They run the dispute resolution mechanism that's been very successful for 50 years. So I think their experience will be very valuable in helping to find a way forward on this.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: I made the emphasis in my statement about our involvement, and Kazakhstan appears to be the most progressive in terms of its advancements in so many areas now and the leadership and all that they've done. And I realize at times it gets to be a little competitive in wanting to know who's better than the other, but my sincere apologies, I just was not able to visit Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. One thing that I know with interest is the fact there is no such thing as an Afghan. There's a couple of million Tajiks living in Afghanistan and with about 3 or 4 million Uzbeks living in Afghanistan.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: And Turkmen.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: And Turkmen. So this is what makes the complication that we are faced with in Afghanistan. It's not just -- there's no such thing as an Afghan, with the fact -- with the exception of the fact that the Pashtuns make up about, what, 40-45 percent of the entire population. So there is that complication to deal with. Do the border lines between these Central Asian countries with Afghanistan -- have they caused any problems?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: You mean, are there border disputes?
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: No, no. Yeah.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: So the borders are very porous. I mean, they travel all the time --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: They do, and that's one of our very key priorities is to work on -- to enhance border security between those countries. David, if you want to --
DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY SEDNEY: We have a number of programs working with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan on border security. And we appreciate very much the continued willingness of the Congress to appropriate money for those programs. The progress that those countries have made in border security over the last several years is important. However, the continuing efforts by the Taliban, the al Qaeda, and other extremist movements, to mount operations across that border is something that is of great concern to us, and we're working with those countries to ensure that we cooperate along that border, along with the Afghan forces.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: You know what my dream is, gentlemen? I just wish that perhaps even a billion out of that 130 billion (dollars) that we're giving to do our military operations to go into all aspects of education, social programs, to Central Asia countries. You're talking about a population of about 65 million people total. And yet, the potentials that is there, I just wish that these resources that we could provide -- and long-term -- as a long-term investment; it's a partnership.
As you mentioned, Turkmenistan currently has the fourth largest reserves of natural gas. And I know these countries are filthy rich with minerals and all of this. And I always say Central Asia is going to be another Middle East in years to come when these resources are going to become limited, oil, gas -- they have it. And I sincerely hope that with our technology and programs that the better-educated societies in these Central Asian countries will be a big -- I think -- a big help. It's something that certainly we could be proud of in our working closely with the leaders of these countries.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: My helpful staff here has just given me the exact figures of the numbers of people who are studying. The largest number, you would not be surprised to learn, is from Kazakhstan; 1,936 students are studying in the United States. Kyrgyzstan has 274; Tajikistan, 288; Turkmenistan, 195; and Uzbekistan, 513.
Obviously, we'd like to do a lot more.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: I deeply appreciate that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: But I can tell you that the Secretary of State and also our Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, Judith McHale, are very committed to this education piece and really want to do much more.
And this is something that is a high priority for us in Central --
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: I realize there is 1.3 billion people living in China. That's why they send 100,000 students from China that currently attend American universities and colleges.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: It's more now. It's 124,000.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: It's 124,000, and India is right next to it with about nearly 100,000.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: A little more, yeah. Hundred thousand, yeah.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: Mr. – [Deputy Assistant Defense] Secretary Sedney?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY SEDNEY: I apologize, Mr. Chairman and Representative Manzullo, that I have to leave. I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak before you, and look forward to the opportunity to do so again in the future. And it's been a very useful and educational experience for me, as it always is when I come over to Capitol Hill. So again, I appreciate that and my personal apologies for having to leave.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: Well, I want to say that we deeply appreciate the services that you give to our country, Mr. Secretary, and we hope that you will continue the good work, and for the American people, we appreciate very much your coming. I've got a couple more questions for Secretary Blake, so just make sure that -- keep an eye on our backs, okay? (Laughs.)
Secretary Blake, I mentioned in my statement about the importance of the summit, for which I will say again how much I deeply appreciate the administration's support and endorsement of having this summit to begin with, something that not only is a credit to you and Secretary Clinton but especially also a credit to President Nazarbayev.
And I think more than anything, if there is a sense of recognition to the world, to our country with the current problems that we're involved with in Afghanistan, how important Central Asia is. We must never forsake -- be negligent in our efforts in dealing with the good people that live in these countries.
Over the years, because I come from the other side of the world, I've been very critical of our policies toward the Pacific, which is zero, other than the fact that we have New Zealand and Australia, but 16 other Pacific Island countries -- it always seems like they don't exist.
And I give that sense of concern because, as I said, the public and the American people are not very much aware -- Central Asia, what does that mean, other than the fact that these people have just come out of the yoke of communism for some 100 years and they're struggling, as you are well aware of.
And I sincerely hope that with the resources and the opportunities and things that America can offer the good people of -- the 65 million people living in these countries, that we should share the benefit and the resources that we have in such a way that Central Asia can continue to grow and become the kind of democracies that the people and the leaders would like to have.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Mr. Chairman, let me just comment on that briefly just to say that I couldn't agree with you more. And I think that the fact that Kazakhstan will be the first country east of Vienna to ever host an OSCE summit is, in itself, quite a milestone for Kazakhstan and for Central Asia, and I think it will do a lot to help to publicize some of the important things that are happening in Central Asia -- just the existence of this and the fact that so many world leaders will be converging on Kazakhstan in early December.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: And, unfortunately, I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of the American people, when you say what is the OSCE -- and for the record, could you elaborate a little bit more, Mr. Secretary? It's some kind of an organization that deals with security in Europe or something like that, involvement of some 56 countries, of which Kazakhstan is a member of.
And I would like to ask you if you could elaborate, for the record, what is the OSCE? What does this have to do with America?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, the United States has been one of those countries that, as you say, that has been working actively with the OSCE for many, many years on all of the pillars that the OSCE works on. The OSCE has played a particularly important role recently in Central Asia, as I said, where they have been real leaders in working with the United States, with the European Union, with Russia to help first to organize these very important elections around the Central Asia space.
They are very active in helping all of these countries to organize elections and then try to make sure that they conform to OSCE standards, and to help them, provide them the technical capacity to do that.
But they've also been very active in other ways in Kyrgyzstan. I mentioned this international commission. The OSCE played an active role in that to help to organize that commission to help investigate the crimes and the murders that took place there in southern Kyrgyzstan.
And then the OSCE now has been involved in helping to improve the police to upgrade their forces there, to introduce community policing, to have an ethnic Uzbek component to that so that the police forces themselves enjoy the trust of the people and the confidence of the people, which, as you know, is so important, and very important we've learned here in our own country.
So I think those are some of the examples of the very practical and important ways that the OSCE -- it's not simply a talk shop. They are doing very important work on the ground in many of these countries.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: Well, Mr. Secretary, again I want to thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to come and testify to the last subcommittee hearing. I am about to terminate my services in my capacity as chairman, and I will say, for the record, it has been my privilege to work with your office and yourself closely in discussing some of these issues that are important to the needs of the good people of Central Asia.
My deepest regrets -- and the problem is I make too many presumptions. I just presumed that we were going to continue to be in the majority, but the American people have spoken otherwise. So this is how our democracy operates, and I look forward in working with our chairman-to-be and sincerely hope that we'll continue the -- I don't even know how they're going to reorganize the committee. We may have fewer subcommittees, but that's their prerogative as being the majority party in the House, and we'll respect that and we'll just have to see what adjustments we need to make in the coming weeks.
But again, Mr. Secretary, thank you. Thank you so much for all that you do for our country and what you do to the good people of Central Asia. And if you have any questions or any more thoughts, I am going to -- about to hit the gavel, and if I could find it --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Let me just -- in conclusion just thank you again for your leadership, Mr. Chairman, and to say that just because you're moving into the minority, it doesn't excuse you from continuing to --
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: Well, I'm used to being in a minority. (Laughter.) So, a minority within a minority; how does that sound?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: And I hope that means we can get you out to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: I hope someday to take my cousins like Troy Polaamalu and Jesse Sapoluand, and Ma'ake Kemoeatu, playing for the Redskins, who lost to the Eagles a couple of days ago, whatever -- tremendous athletic potentials that we have there among the Central Asian countries.
Our first love, where I come from, is rugby. I just hosted one of the rugby icons of the world, Michael Jones, one of the most famous rugby players in the New Zealand All Blacks. He was just here a couple of days ago. And nothing like having good sports. That's another way to promote friendship. And the Central Asian countries, they produce good wrestlers.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: They do.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: And I've learned also how to appreciate -- how do you prepare horsemeat? For breakfast, for lunch and for dinner. (Laughter.) You wouldn't even know it's horse meat. But it's delicious. You should try it, Mr. Secretary, which I'm sure you've been offered.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Oh, I've had it. I've had it.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: Yeah, I love it. But I will say, Mr. Secretary, I have a very, very strong affection for the people of Central Asia and I again commend you for all that you do for them, and I sincerely hope that our government and the American people will show that we are hospitable people too if given the opportunity --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Right.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: -- and sharing with them our resources in such a way that our communities will mutually benefit. Again, Mr. Secretary, thank you. (Sounds gavel.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
DELEGATE FALEOMAVAEGA: The meeting is adjourned.