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Diplomacy in Action

Press Roundtable Tajikistan


Remarks
Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Dushanbe, Tajikistan
July 6, 2009

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Assistant Secretary Blake: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you very much for coming. This is my first visit to Tajikistan as Assistant Secretary of State.

I was very pleased to have the opportunity today to meet with the President and with the Foreign Minister. I had the opportunity to brief them on the strategic priority that President Obama attaches to our relations in Afghanistan and Pakistan and our goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat terrorism in those two countries.

I thanked the President and the Foreign Minister for Tajikistan’s cooperation in Afghanistan, and with us to strengthen border controls, to stop the flow of narcotics out of Afghanistan and to help counter terrorism.

We also discussed the economic engagement between the United States and Tajikistan. The President and the Foreign Minister described the economic challenges that Tajikistan is facing as a result of the global economic crisis, the drop in remittances from other countries, and the drop in world cotton and aluminum prices.

The United States has an important bilateral assistance program here in Tajikistan. For example, we are helping to create the conditions for small- and medium-sized enterprises here in this country. We also support the efforts by the Asian Development Bank to develop electricity lines from Tajikistan to Afghanistan. To ensure that Tajikistan still has access to lending from multilateral financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank and the IMF, we also discussed the importance of the government of Tajikistan assuring proper financial controls over all of the money that is lent to it.

We talked about the importance of Tajikistan maintaining freedom of religion and democracy so that extremists and terrorists are not given the opportunity to gain a foothold here in Tajikistan.

Finally, I was very pleased today to have the opportunity to visit two projects that are supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development. One was a Water Users Association and the other was a primary health care Center of Excellence.

In closing, I want to thank the people of Tajikistan for the very warm hospitality that I have received during the course of my visit. I look forward to many future visits where I hope to spend more time in your beautiful country.

I also want to thank Ambassador Jacobson and her excellent team here who are doing a splendid job representing the United States and I want to thank her for her hospitality and great work as well.

With that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: The first question concerns the air base of Manas in Kyrgyzstan. Don’t you think that the fact that the United States maintains the base irrespective of the fact that the Kyrgyz government sort of terminated the agreement is a sign of the victory of American diplomacy? This is the first question.

Assistant Secretary Blake: One at a time. With respect to the first question, let me say that the United States very much appreciates the Kyrgyz Parliament’s ratification and its support for new arrangements for a new transit center in Manas.

QUESTION: The second question was, when do you think the transit of non-lethal goods will start and what will be the volume of transportation, say, monthly or every six months?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Here in Tajikistan?

QUESTION: Yes.

Assistant Secretary Blake: First of all let me, again, express my thanks to the government of Tajikistan for their support in the transit of non-lethal goods to Afghanistan and more broadly for their support in the other areas that I described in my statement.

I can’t say exactly when the first goods will transit, but the details will be announced at the appropriate time.

QUESTION: The United States signed the agreement about the transit of non-lethal goods with Tajikistan. Nobody knew what will happen with Manas. Now that Manas has acquired a new status, do you think that the transit of goods through the territory of Tajikistan will ever happen?

Assistant Secretary Blake: The two aren’t really related. First of all, President Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan still has to approve the new transit center, so that agreement is not entirely concluded yet. If he does approve, and certainly we hope he will, it will not affect our other transit agreements that we have with other countries. It is important for us to have a variety of different options for the transit of non-lethal goods to Afghanistan.

QUESTION: During your meeting with the President were there any issues that have not been solved positively, or have not found their positive solution? And what are, in your view, the spheres in which the United States and Tajikistan could work more fruitfully?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I don’t think there were any major areas of disagreement. We had a very friendly discussion in our meeting with the President. As I said earlier, we discussed ways that we can continue to work on Afghanistan and the areas that I’ve already described. We also discussed ways that we can help strengthen Tajikistan’s economy. We think there are a variety of ways that we can continue to cooperate. We look forward to seizing those opportunities.

QUESTION: Speaking of some organizations that deal with the process of democratization, for example, such as Freedom House. In the report of Freedom House and also in the previous report on human rights of the Department of State, Tajikistan is described as a fully authoritarian state. The regime is more like a regime of dictatorship. With a view of all of these facts, how can the United States continue providing financial assistance to Tajikistan?

Assistant Secretary Blake: As I said earlier, we think it’s important for Tajikistan, just like all other countries, to ensure democracy and freedom of expression and freedom of religion because that’s the best way to defeat extremism and terrorism.

Part of our assistance program is also to help the government of Tajikistan to develop some of these different freedoms, and these programs are conducted with the knowledge of the government, with the support of the government.

QUESTION: At the beginning of your briefing you remarked that the American side is going to exercise strict control over the funds lent by international financial organizations to Tajikistan. What are the reasons of such decision?

Assistant Secretary Blake: First of all, let me correct slightly what you said about what I said.

QUESTION: No, no, no. It was exactly what was said. Because Mr. Blake did not say so. She has misunderstood. She said that America is going to exercise control, while Mr. Blake did not say so.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Just to be clear. The United States is one of several donors that contribute money to the International Monetary Fund, to the Asian Development Bank, to the World Bank, and other international financial institutions. But the United States is accountable to our Congress which appropriates money for such assistance and quite naturally they want to make sure that all of that money is well spent and properly accounted for. That’s why we want to ensure that there are appropriate internal controls and management controls for lending to Tajikistan as there would be for lending to any country.

QUESTION: The first question is how does the United States assess the political situation in Tajikistan in view of upcoming elections next year?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I’m not sure what the question really means. But obviously, we assess that this is a stable country and obviously we look forward to what we hope will be free and fair elections in which all of the legal parties have the opportunity to participate.

QUESTION: The second question concerns more Afghanistan. When speaking about the freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and freedom of expression, you said that unless these principles are ensured, there is a possibility of threat of terrorists and extremists routing here in Tajikistan. In this view, how do you assess the threat of terrorism and extremism coming from Afghanistan?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I think that Tajikistan, like the United States, does face a threat from militants and extremists who might cross over from Afghanistan. That is why we are cooperating together to confront this threat.

As I said earlier, President Obama has made it one of our most important strategic priorities to work with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to disrupt, defeat and dismantle extremist networks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan so that they cannot pose a threat either to the United States or to the neighbors of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

QUESTION: We understand that you being a high-ranking diplomat, you act as a diplomat in your answers. And we understand when assessing Tajikistan’s situation you spoke about it as a stable country. But there are other opinions, for example of International Crisis Group which describes the situation in Tajikistan as unstable, that the Tajikistan faces a number of economic, social and political threats.

Are you aware of such assessments? And what can you say about them?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Sorry, perhaps I wasn’t clear.

The earlier question was about the political stability of and whether the government and the President himself was considered stable, and we think the President is stable, and his hold on power is stable.

With respect to your larger question of Tajikistan, you’re right, and I made reference to that in my statement. That is that the situation in Tajikistan is fragile. There’s the economic crisis that your country faces as a result of the decline in remittances, as a result of some of the other things like the falling cotton prices, as a result of the potential threat from Afghanistan. It’s well known some of the electricity crises that your country has experienced in the recent past. I think the situation is fragile, as you say, and I don’t want to dispute the conclusions of studies like the International Crisis Group.

Why don’t we take one more question?

QUESTION: The problems that you’ve mentioned, they not only exist but they are getting more deeper and deeper with every coming year. He sees some connection between the preceding visit of the Russian Minister of Defense and the succeeding visit from your side. But the problem is that to our mind the situation in the region looks absolutely differently because the IMU forces have been active recently in Kyrgyzstan, in Andijan in Uzbekistan, and in the east of our country, Tajikistan, and the authorities deny any activities on their part.

What is your vision of the regional stability in Central Asia? Is there such stability?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I would just answer that question by saying that the United States believes that everywhere terrorists and extremists must be confronted, but those that seek to exercise their democratic rights, all of their democratic rights in a peaceful manner should be allowed to do so, and that is the best way to ensure stability. That is what we’re seeking in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, and I think the same applies everywhere around the world.

In conclusion, let me thank you all very much for coming this afternoon. I look forward to future visits, and I promise that during every visit I will make sure that I have an opportunity to speak with you and I have a chance to hear your questions, because those are also very important to us. Thank you.



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