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Diplomacy in Action

U.S.-Tajikistan Relations

Press Conference
Richard A. Boucher
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Dushanbe, Tajikistan
April 20, 2009


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Good afternoon, everyone. It’s nice to be back in Tajikistan. It’s nice to see some of you again. I am glad there is a press center in Tajikistan, somewhere for all the journalists to work.

I had a good visit this time. I’ve been to a lot of places and seen a lot of different people. I was able to meet with the Foreign Minister and the President to talk about policy issues. I was able to talk to other members and donors in the international community. And I was able to meet various people around town. I wasn’t able to go too far because of the rain, but I was able to meet various people who work on our aid projects, our assistance programs. And I had a chance to talk to some young people who are involved in some of our English language programs. They’re always fun and exciting.

The United States is involved with Tajikistan in a whole lot of different areas. We support education, we support agriculture, we support health care, and we support political and economic reform. We work with the government on strengthening border security and fighting narcotics. And we work with groups in society whether they’re small local cooperative organizations or different non-governmental groups.

In Washington now we have a new administration, a new President, as you know. We’re working with the new administration, we’re starting to talk about how to work with Central Asia, how the new administration can approach Central Asia. And I think the main story I’d tell you is that President Obama and Secretary Clinton want to continue and expand our involvement in relations with Central Asia. We want to work more closely with the countries in this region. Together we can help bring stability to Afghanistan, and together we can try to open up new opportunities for the nations and especially the people of this region.

I’ve been to Tajikistan several times before and I’ve been trying to continue the programs we have here. But I also think this visit is the start of something new and the start of a new level of cooperation.

That’s all I have to say, I’d be glad to take your questions.

QUESTION: [Assistant] Secretary Boucher, just to make clear, to close the issue of the transit of goods. Is this true that exchange of notes in March of this year is enough? Is enough for the major countries to carry out the transit of commercial NATO goods through Tajikistan?


QUESTION: Are you working on some other agreement?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, the exchange of notes is enough.

AMBASSADOR TRACEY JACOBSON: The exchange of notes was regarding the United States.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yes, as the Ambassador points out, the exchange of notes was for the United States. As far as all of NATO, I’m frankly not sure what the legal requirements are.

The only other thing that has to happen is when there’s a shipment, people have to book cargos and rent trucks and handle it as a normal commercial shipment.

QUESTION: How does the United States consider Russia in the Central Asian area, a partner or a competitor? If a partner, in which spheres you could interrelate, make some kind of an interrelation or cooperation?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: First of all, we’re not in competition with anybody here. I know academics like to write books about the great game, but we’re not playing games here. When we talk about this region, when we look at the interests in this region we don’t really look at it from outside countries. We look at it from the inside out. We look at it from the standpoint of the countries themselves. What do they need? And in our view the countries here and the people here need new opportunities -- new chances for education, trade, exports, partners. That means they need Russia, they need China, they need Europe, they need the United States, they need India, and they need all the different opportunities.

The second is that we share with the countries in this region and see this in Tajikistan. We share an interest in stabilizing Afghanistan. That’s an interest we all share with Russia and other countries. When we work against narcotics or we work to ship cargos to Afghanistan we work with Tajikistan, we work with Russia, we work with other countries in between. In practical terms Russia is certainly one of the countries we work with in the region, but we define our interests in terms of what we can do to help these countries find new opportunities and exercise their independence.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Boucher, for this press conference. The question is do you think in the President Bush administration, relations with Tajikistan and the United States were mainly due to the fact that the Tajikistan borders Afghanistan. What is the new foreign policy of President Obama administration in Central Asia in general, and Tajikistan in particular? Especially in foreign policy.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Let me start by disagreeing with you. These assistance programs that I visited today, these are programs that have gone on for a number of years. We’ve worked here with people on agriculture, on health, on education, on economic and political reform because that’s where we see an interest in creating new development opportunities and new opportunities generally for people in Tajikistan. We’ve also been cooperating on border security, against narcotics, on water, and on energy.

What President Obama and Secretary Clinton want to do is to expand that cooperation. They want to make it more active involvement, perhaps at higher levels in this region, and try to bring to fruition some of the more specific cooperation with regards to Afghanistan.

QUESTION: You said in your introductory speech that this visit is the start of something new. Could you please elaborate what exactly this means? And if you could just give us a bit more information on what’s been signed, what’s been agreed with the Tajik authorities on this visit if possible. Also, because we are following this new route of non-military cargo, when would we see the first cargo being delivered to Afghanistan via Tajikistan?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: That’s three questions, I’ll remember two of them.

What I’d say is new is the opportunity to do some more specific things. What we’ve talked about today, the last two days with the government, is transit of cargos. Nothing more needs to be done but booking the cargos. I expect that will start in the next few weeks, maybe a month or two. I don’t know how much you’ll see. It will just be another truck going down the road with a container on it.

We talked about connecting electricity lines so that Tajikistan can be one of the suppliers of electricity to Afghanistan. That’s something we ought to be able to do over the next year or two and eventually we see Tajikistan as an exporter of electricity to a broader region, all the way down south to Pakistan.

We talked about joint training of border guards and cooperation of Afghanistan’s and Tajikistan’s border guards so they can start training together and working together more closely.

Those are the kind of things we’re talking about in specific terms.

QUESTION: On electricity. Tajikistan suffers a lot in Central Asia with the lack of electricity. How do you see it being a transit country? Are you talking about construction of new hydro power stations and transiting electricity from Tajikistan?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: If you think about it in the long-term, it would be both. Right now Tajikistan has some excess capacity in the summer time, but also a very desperate need for electricity in the winter time. We’ve encouraged the countries of this region to work together to balance water and energy needs. But also if we can connect Afghanistan with the neighbors, then they can get energy from different places different times of the year.

QUESTION: Concerning the Manas Base in Kyrgyzstan. The issue of the withdrawal of the American base from Manas is already final. Are there any movements towards denouncing this solution? Or relocation or redeployment of this air base to some place either in the United States, or in Turkey, or in some other country of Central Asian region?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: The decision that was made in Kyrgyzstan about the base has been officially communicated. We’re quite aware of it. It involves six month notification on end of operations there. That’s a period during which we can stay in touch with the authorities in Kyrgyzstan. We’ve welcomed the contribution that the operations in Manas have made to the efforts in Afghanistan. I think the coalition forces and the people of Afghanistan all appreciate that contribution.

The operations that we’ve conducted at Manas are things that we can do elsewhere. We’re not particularly looking for some other base in the region, but we can conduct these operations in other places. We’ll see how it all works out. We’ve got a six month period to decide finally what to do.

QUESTION: Have you already settled the issue of the routes for transit of goods through Tajikistan? There were rumors about the route from Turkey and then Georgia or the Russian territory and then the Uzbek territory. Have you already have some specific route of the transit of goods up to the Tajik border and through the Tajik territory?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think the thing to remember about these routes is these are commercial cargos. Wherever there are trains or roads or boats these cargos can be shipped. The answer on Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Caspian, Pakistan, is yes. We have agreements with many of the countries in the region, so I expect the cargos will pass by whatever routes are quickest and most efficient and offer commercial advantage.

QUESTION: Does the recent pledge by [inaudible] of $800 million misappropriated by the Central Bank make the U.S. think twice about what assistance it provides?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Our financial assistance here goes in a variety of ways with cooperating partners, non-governmental organizations, sometimes cooperation with government agencies. But it’s not just money that’s turned over to the government or dumped into some government fund. We think we have a good handle on how the money is spent, on the fact that this money goes directly to benefit people in Tajikistan.

Certainly we are very concerned about the results of the audit. It shows a number of things. It shows the serious problem of money that should be used to benefit the people of a country. It was turned into other uses. We talk about dams, we talk about investments, we talk about economics – that is where this money should have gone.

It also shows problems with the financial system and accountability. These are serious problems that need to be looked into thoroughly and action needs to be taken.

I don’t think we think about it in terms of specifically our aid programs. We think about it in terms of the kind of action that’s needed on economic reform.

QUESTION: At the beginning of this year we have had visits to Tajikistan including General Petreaus, [Inaudible] and [inaudible] and you. In the near future we will have [inaudible] in Tajikistan. Following the Kyrgyz government’s decision to shut down the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan, it seems that Tajikistan is the best option and is the best substitute route for the U.S. allies to support [inaudible] to Afghanistan. We know that Iran is not [inaudible] and the Taliban attacks also [inaudible] south and Kyrgyzstan also [inaudible] final to shut down the air base. It seems that Tajikistan is the best substitute route. What’s your opinion?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: First of all, the visitors, all the visitors coming here is a reflection of how much of a relationship we’re developing with Tajikistan. My visit today is being followed by a visit this afternoon by one of our officials to work on trade and investment issues. Our embassy is busy working on visits by other kinds of U.S. delegations. As I said at the beginning, we have a lot of different areas of involvement with Tajikistan.

The other thing to remember is a base is not just a single entity. We do a lot of different things through the base at Manas. So it’s not just a matter of picking it up here and putting it over there. Different kinds of cargo and people and humanitarian supplies can go through different places.

As I said, we’re not particularly looking for some alternate site for “a” base. We know we can conduct the operations that we need to in different ways in different places. We have six months to keep talking to the Kyrgyz and to look at these operations and decide what to do.

QUESTION: During the meeting, you said that during the meeting with the President you discussed a new strategy of the U.S. government towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. What does this mean? What is this new strategy? And what role can be played by Tajikistan in this new strategy?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: President Obama has announced his approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He wants to work closely with neighbors and countries of the region. He wants to make sure that we coordinate closely on both the military and the civilian aspects of stabilizing Afghanistan. He wants to help strengthen responsible governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan so that they can rely on themselves to take care of their problems. He wants to make sure that we supply the assistance and the troops and the people that are necessary to help Afghanistan and Pakistan overcome their problems.

Tajikistan can help in a number of ways. It can help by supporting and working with the governments of Afghanistan especially, but also Pakistan. It can help by training for police and security guards and government people from those countries, especially Afghanistan. It can help by humanitarian assistance, agricultural cooperation, things like that, especially for people in the north. And it can help by working with countries like ours and others on transit of supplies, on connecting electricity, these other issues we’ve talked about.

Our countries, the United States and Tajikistan, have a common interest in stabilizing Afghanistan. We need to deal with the problems of terrorism and drugs that come out of Afghanistan. We also need to develop the opportunities of trade and transit and investment that Afghanistan brings to this region.

I think that’s going to be it for today. Thank you very much. It’s good to meet you.

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