Remarks at U.S. Embassy Tashkent

Press Availability
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Tashkent, Uzbekistan
April 25, 2013

Assistant Secretary Blake: Good morning, everybody. I’m very pleased to be back here in Tashkent and to see a lot of familiar faces. I’d like to begin by thanking our hosts in Uzbekistan for their customary gracious hospitality over the last few days.

I was very pleased to have the opportunity yesterday to meet with His Excellency President Karimov as well as with Deputy Prime Minister Azimov and Foreign Minister Kamilov. As always we had good discussions that covered the full range of issues on our bilateral agenda. We also had an opportunity to meet with representatives of civil society as well as with representatives of the business community and multilateral development banks to discuss business opportunities here in Uzbekistan, in Central Asia, and with Afghanistan.

We continue to seek ways to broaden and deepen our relations with Uzbekistan and I had the opportunity to tell our friends in the Uzbek government that our relations are much more than about the good progress that we have on Afghanistan, and that Uzbekistan will remain a priority well after 2014.

As all of you know after my stop in Tashkent I will be returning to Kazakhstan to join the U.S. delegation to the Heart of Asia Istanbul Process Ministerial in Almaty where I’ll be joining our Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns.

I’d like to just take the opportunity to thank Ambassador Krol and his great team for the great job they’re doing here to represent the United States here in Uzbekistan.

Again, thank you so much for coming and I’d be glad to take some questions.

Question: [Through Interpreter]. She used to be a former journalist with the [inaudible] Television Company. We think that everything starts from the head of the fish and also wise people say that if the king is fair then everyone in the country would be fair. But vice versa, then the people will be the same too.

The thing is, me with my colleague were against bad censorship and corruption in the television and we happened to be in the street now, and after two years I wanted to get my labor book about my registration and it happened that they fired me not in 2010 but in 2011, one year later.

My question is, I was covering your visit in 2009 when you were in Uzbekistan and you had press conference in Intercontinental Hotel and it’s four years. What is your opinion about the situation in Uzbekistan, and does the government of the United States provide some kind of proposals for the government of Uzbekistan? And perhaps we should start kind of advocacy company so that like mass media as BBC and Voice of Freedom should come back to Uzbekistan. Thank you.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Thank you very much for that question.

Let me just say as a general rule that human rights and promotion of democracy are very very important parts of our dialogue with the government of Uzbekistan and of course our support for civil society. You have all heard me say that the United States is concerned about the shrinking space for civil society and for journalists all over Central Asia. I think you’ve seen our recent Human Rights Report about the situation here in Uzbekistan. That lays out in very clear terms our position. And we continue to have a very open and respectful dialogue with the government of Uzbekistan about this.

We also had a visit by our Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Mr. Mike Hammer, and he really focused on this very important issue of press freedom which is an integral part of the opening of society that needs to take place, not only herein Uzbekistan but in other parts of Central Asia. Thank you.

Question: [Through Interpreter]. [Inaudible], Agency France Press.

I’d like to learn, recently we had the recent visit of Mr. Hammer in Uzbekistan. He participated in different conferences. And the relations between Uzbekistan and U.S. are getting better, but as we see, just like we had in Soviet Union, we still have this fear that if someone is close to the United States and people say about this now, so apparently the regime will change or the leadership will change. So in this regard, what do you think? To what extent the relations with Uzbekistan are reliable and to what extent Uzbek government is trusting about the intentions of the U.S. in Central Asia?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Obviously I’ll let the Uzbek government speak for itself about whether they trust the United States. But from our perspective I’d like to just say what Secretary Kerry told Foreign Minister Kamilov when the Foreign Minister visited Washington earlier this year, which is that our relations with Uzbekistan are far more than about our cooperation on Afghanistan. And I think it was notable that in their meeting, most of the meeting was focused on how to expand our cooperation, particularly in the economic sphere, but also in other areas such as science and technology, in energy cooperation, possibly climate change. And obviously Afghanistan will continue to be an important part of what we discuss, but the overall message was that Uzbekistan will continue to be important to the United States after the transition in Afghanistan and we will continue to attach a high priority to developing further these relations after 2014.

Question: [Through Interpreter]. [Inaudible] Radio, and I work in the radio. My question is the following.

Yesterday you had a meeting with the President and you talked about the, have you talked about the specific issues of registering political parties?

Assistant Secretary Blake: In our talks with the Foreign Ministry and with the government of Uzbekistan we talk about all of these issues. I don’t want to get into the specific details of our diplomatic conversations, but we talk about the full range of human rights issues from some of the political issues that you just mentioned, the problems that civil society is facing, as well as important issues like trafficking in persons which are of great importance to the United States.

So again, we talk about these in a very open and frank but also respectful way. We obviously have a goal of making progress. In some cases we see some progress. We were very happy to see that Mr. Mamadali Makhmudov was recently released. We welcome that. Obviously there are many more people that remain in prison including journalists. We would like to see those people released as well. Again, we talk about those on a regular basis with our friends in the government.

Question: [Through Interpreter]. I have the following question. You talked about the permanent talks with the government about the human rights issues and the status as well as journalists. And as I know, you have the application about two journalists which are now in prison. Did you specifically talk about those two journalists?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I don’t want to get into the specific details of our diplomatic discussions. But again, I just want to say that our talks do cover the full range of issues. We do raise specific cases, but again, I don’t want to talk about that publicly because it’s much better for these to be discussed in a private way so that there’s not the appearance of sort of undue pressure on the part of the United States. We want to see progress on all of these issues, and again, we talk about them in a very detailed and respectful way, to try to see progress on these issues.

Question: [Through Interpreter]. My question is the following. I’d like to learn if you, what would be the relations with the U.S. without the fact of a withdrawal in 2014? What do you think? Would the United States insist more on changing our development of the progress in human rights without the withdrawal in 2014 through Uzbek territory? Is it clear?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Will the transition affect our dialogue on human rights?

Voice: Also if there wasn’t the U.S. interest in the security and use of Uzbekistan for Afghanistan would there be more of a focus on human rights?

Assistant Secretary Blake: No, I don’t think there would be more of a focus after the withdrawal. I think there’s already quite a significant focus on human rights. Again, that will continue.

Again, these are things where we always try to understand first of all the position of all of the governments of Central Asia, but we also try to place human rights in the context of why it’s in their own interest to allow more open societies, to allow more representative government, to allow, for example, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of assembly. And that all of these will help to create more open, more stable, more representative and more prosperous societies.

So we spend a great deal of time talking about that and again, trying to first of all understand why these things happened but also then to explain why we think it’s in their own interest for progress to be made on all of these fronts.

Again, those kinds of things are really irrespective of what’s going on in Afghanistan. So again, I expect that even after the withdrawal of our troops that we will continue to have exactly this kind of dialogue. Not only with Uzbekistan but with countries across Central Asia and the wider region.

Question: [Through Interpreter]. Vasily Marco, Independent information Service of Uzbekistan.

Recently we had received a message that Great Britain had agreed with Tajikistan about the withdrawal of their troops from the territory of Tajikistan, not Uzbekistan. To what extent the U.S. government is considering this option, or you have already developed this option?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I don’t want to get too much into the details of what specific agreements we have with each of these countries for obvious security reasons, that we do not want to have potential extremists or terrorists attack whatever might be going on. But let me just say that we do have good cooperation with Tajikistan on a wide range of fronts, but that the bulk of our transit of supplies going into Afghanistan and perhaps now increasingly leaving Afghanistan will be transiting through Uzbekistan for the simple reason that Uzbekistan has the only rail line going into Afghanistan.

So again I want to take the opportunity to express our thanks to the government of Uzbekistan for all of their assistance in facilitating the shipments and I think that there’s been very good progress on that. We are confident that that progress will continue.

Question: [Through Interpreter]. The world is guided and ruled by interests and as Churchill said, in the last century, then the state doesn’t have friends, the state has interests. And from this point of view every country is cooperating with another country and this is not a question, this is kind of a gratitude and kind of a commend that the United States based on its own interests at the same time assists the development, not development, but to ensure the freedom of press, to ensure the human rights in Uzbekistan. But I know that it’s not easy and I hope that even if we don’t work freely, I hope that our children will be able to work and live in the true democratic Uzbekistan. Thank you.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Thank you.

Question: [Through Interpreter]. Mr. Blake said that he will not talk about details, but let’s try to clarify. Do you have any information, so we talked about Britain and we know that Germans also want to leave something in Uzbekistan. What about U.S.? Are you planning to leave some kind of defense items in Uzbekistan after the withdrawal? Assets?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I think this question refers to the question of excess defense articles from Afghanistan. Let me respond to that by saying that the process for determining what defense articles in Afghanistan may be available is really just beginning now as units start to transition out. Some of those defense articles will be transferred to the Afghan National Forces themselves to help sustain their efforts, but some of them also will be made available to partners around the region including Uzbekistan. So we have begun a conversation with Uzbekistan and with other countries about what their needs are and what their requirements are. There will now be a process to try to match those with what might be available and then at some point later the actual transfers will take place.

But again, I want to stress we’re really just at the beginning of this process now.

Question: [Through Interpreter]. We’d like to thank you for this rare opportunity to meet with you. Thank you for this excellent opportunity. We know that it’s a very rare case. Thank you for your availability to listen to us, our questions. And once again we’d like to learn of you since you came back to Uzbekistan in certain time and you talked to our leadership, what do you think? Do we have any changes to the better side or to the worse side? What are your personal conclusions after this visit?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Well again, I think our views are very clearly laid out in our Human Rights Report so I think I’d refer you to that because that can give you a very comprehensive sense of U.S. government views. I don’t really have much to add beyond that, and again, I’d just refer you to that and to say again, this is an important part of our dialogue with the government of Uzbekistan and will continue to be so.

Question: [Through Interpreter]. Can we have a group picture with you after the press conference?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Sure.

Let me just say that it’s a pleasure to see many of you again. If any of you are ever in Washington of course I’d be glad to see you. And again, thank you for coming out today, and of course I’d be glad to have a picture.