Media Roundtable

James B. Steinberg
   Deputy Secretary of State
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
   Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
July 18, 2010

Deputy Secretary Steinberg: Thank you for waiting.

It’s a great pleasure to be here today. I’ve just come from a very productive meeting with President Otunbayeva. We had a chance to talk about the strong commitment and interest of the United States in helping Kyrgyzstan move forward and build a strong and vibrant democracy and to address the difficult challenges that have come from recent events and to help bring together society and support reconciliation and reconstruction here.

I also had a good chance to meet with representatives of civil society who play such an important role in achieving these goals as we work toward following on the very successful referendum and as you move forward to parliamentary elections.

So my visit here follows a number of visits by senior U.S. officials which is a continuing indication of the interest and commitment we have to work with the people of Kyrgyzstan to build a more promising and hopeful future.

You can start with your questions.

Question: During your meeting with President Otunbayeva did you discuss the issue of extending the presence of the transit center in Kyrgyzstan, and also the issue of opening a second military base in the south of the country?

Deputy Secretary Steinberg: No. This was not a purpose of my visit here and we did not touch on that issue.

Question: I have read your bio before the press conference and I saw that you’re a specialist on security affairs. We have also information that the United States government is planning to provide assistance to Kyrgyzstan which is very much necessary.

Is the United States government planning any programs or consultations to provide assistance to Kyrgyzstan in ensuring the security of the southern regions of Kyrgyzstan and would the United States government plan to provide such assistance?

Deputy Secretary Steinberg: You’re right in saying that we are very much committed to providing assistance to Kyrgyzstan, particularly in dealing with the immediate challenges, the humanitarian challenges that Kyrgyzstan faces. So the focus of our near term efforts is on humanitarian needs, on reconstruction, but also supporting the democratic process here in Kyrgyzstan.

We’re also prepared to work with the government here to deal with challenges like strengthening the professionalization and the accountability of security services and the like and we’re open to discussions on those issues. But as I said, right now the principal focus is to make sure that we have the ability of people to return to their homes, to have shelter for the winter, to help the schools reopen, to meet the near-term needs as well as to support the democratic process including the issues of human rights and accountability going forward.

Question: Mr. Steinberg, can you say whether the situation that happened in the country happens again in the future, would the United States government use its forces that are located here to stabilize the situation?

Also there are reports that terrorists were involved in organizing and triggering this event. So would the United States use its forces?

Deputy Secretary Steinberg: One of the things I’ve learned in my career in and out of government is not to speculate on hypothetical cases. Our focus is on preventing this from happening again and working with the government here, with civil society here, with Kyrgyzstan’s neighbors to make sure that we don’t see a recurrence of that violence. We see an establishment of a constructive environment, reengagement of the communities here to make sure that we don’t have a recurrence.

I would say as we think about going forward there is a real opportunity now if we all work together to make sure that that doesn’t happen. I think because we’ve all seen the terrible consequences of allowing events to get out of control it gives us all the more reason to focus on an urgent basis to prevent that from happening. That’s why we have supported very strongly the OSCE police presence. That’s why we are working with Kyrgyzstan’s neighbors and the international community to support the donor’s conference coming forward, and to take the steps that are needed to make sure that we don’t see a recurrence of what we saw a few months ago.

Question: We all have read your bio and we saw that you are experienced, a specialist in the area of security. And I’m sure you had some sort of assessment of the reasons why the events happened in the south. The United States is helping Kyrgyzstan, which is good, but I think we had enough level democracy in the south but the conflict still happened in the south.

Could you please share your recommendations on what we should do in order to prevent such conflicts in the future? And probably you have raised these recommendations during your meeting with President Otunbayeva as well.

Deputy Secretary Steinberg: The first thing which I think there’s a broad recognition of is that we do need to have accountability and understanding for what happened. I think there are a number of factors that likely contributed to the violence, but what is important is to have a systematic and credible inquiry into what the factors were that went into it. I know the government here has established its own commission but it’s asked the international community to play a role and I think that’s very important, because in situations like these there are lots of theories and allegations, and laying out the facts I think is a critical first step to prevent it from happening again.

But in terms of the key recommendations going forward, I think one of the keys clearly is accountable and transparent government. Second, reliable law enforcement and judicial institutions that have credibility and the trust of the people. Third, economic opportunity for all citizens of all communities including a good education and real prospects for good and productive jobs. Finally, a sense of civil society and dialogue and strengthening the links between the communities. They’re all critical components going forward, and these are something that we discussed with the government here, I believe that the President has a strong commitment to, and we in the United States and the international community want to work with the government here and with the people of Kyrgyzstan to achieve these goals.

While we recognize that the situation remains very fragile here and that there are real risks, we remain very hopeful that with the goodwill and hard efforts of all including both the people of Kyrgyzstan and their friends in the international community including the United States, that we can chart out a more hopeful and more stable future that will be for the benefit of all the citizens of this country.

Thanks very much.