Assistant Secretary Blake: Well good morning. It’s a pleasure for me to be here in Tashkent. I want to say that I appreciate very much the hospitality that I received here in Uzbekistan. It’s my first visit to your beautiful country as Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia.
I was very pleased to have the opportunity to meet with His Excellency President Karimov, Foreign Minister Norov, and other members of government. I also appreciated the opportunity to meet with the head of the legislative chamber as well as the president of the Senate. My visit is a reflection of the determination of President Obama and Secretary Clinton to strengthen ties between the United States and Uzbekistan. We want to do this on the basis of our common interests and mutual respect.
I conveyed to President Karimov America’s sincere appreciation for Uzbekistan’s support for international efforts in Afghanistan. The United States and Uzbekistan have a shared interest in peace and stability in Afghanistan. I also appreciated President Karimov’s perspectives and advice on developments in Afghanistan and the wider region. We discussed ways that the U.S. and Uzbekistan can build our partnership across a wide range of areas. These include trade and development, border security, cooperation on narcotics, the development of civil society, and individual rights.
To better enable a future dialogue we discussed initiating a broad and structured mechanism that allows us to set concrete targets for progress, to work through our differences, and do so in a manner of mutual respect. I told President Karimov of my personal commitment to the success of this dialogue. And I told him of my confidence that the United States and Uzbekistan can make progress on the broad range of priorities on our bilateral agenda. Finally I would like to thank Ambassador Norland and his excellent team here in Uzbekistan for their support for my visit and for their ongoing outstanding efforts representing the United States here in Uzbekistan. Once again I’d like to thank all of you for coming and I would be pleased to take a few questions from you.
Atif Alaa (Turkish Agency Cihan): As you know there was the signing of the historic protocol between Armenia and Turkey in Zurich. What do you see as the impact of this protocol as well as the impact in this region?
Assistant Secretary Blake: Thank you very much for that question. Secretary Clinton was very pleased to be able to witness that historic agreement. We congratulate all of the signatories and believe this represents a very positive development in relations in this area.
Abdumalik Boboev (Uzbek Service of the VOA): In your meeting with the President of Uzbekistan you said that you discussed the issue of Afghanistan. Were there any agreements to be signed in the future in this regard in Uzbekistan, and the second question - you said that you met with representatives of civil society; what were the subjects you discussed in that meeting?
Assistant Secretary Blake: On the question of Afghanistan we discussed our ongoing cooperation. I expressed our appreciation for Uzbekistan’s contributions to the stabilization of Afghanistan not only through the transit of non-lethal goods, but also through provision of electricity and reconstruction for Afghanistan. We did not sign any new agreements with respect to Afghanistan or any other subject. I did meet with civil society while I was here. This is an important part of our dialogue in every country with which we have relations and I was very satisfied with the talks that I had with them. Our friends in the Uzbek government also assured us that this is an important priority for them as well.
Abdurahmon Tashanov (Harakat website): I’d like to go back to the question on the meeting with the civil society representatives – we would like you to mention the topics of the discussions. My second question is that in the relationship between the EU and Uzbekistan there were issues of human rights-based dialogue but the foreign minister of Uzbekistan replied that the human rights issues of Uzbekistan is an internal issue of Uzbekistan and if Uzbekistan will also say that human rights and democracy are an internal issue of Uzbekistan in talks with the United States what would be your reaction?
Assistant Secretary Blake: That’s a lot of questions. First of all, with respect to our talk with civil society I’d prefer to keep those private, just as we respect the confidentiality of our talks with the government. With respect to the human rights question, the United States and Uzbekistan intend to initiate a bilateral annual consultation in which we will discuss the full range of priorities on our bilateral agenda. I conveyed an invitation from the United States government to the government of Uzbekistan to send a high level delegation at the time of their choosing to the United States to begin those consultations. As I said in my statement I am confident that we will be able to make progress on the full range of priorities on our bilateral agenda.
Sid Yanyshev (freelancer): You mentioned that in the meeting with the President of Uzbekistan you spoke about the trade relationship with many countries but it is known that the labor ministry of the United States called on the textile companies in the United States to boycott Uzbek cotton because of the use of child labor. How would you comment on this?
Assistant Secretary Blake: With respect to trade and development we think there are some important opportunities here in Uzbekistan for greater trade and investment for American companies. Uzbekistan has a large market, a well educated population and the opportunity for American companies to export to other parts of the region. That’s why we’ve seen companies such as General Motors establish operations here and we will explore ways that we can expose more American companies to the opportunities here. With respect to the child labor and cotton question that you’ve raised, Uzbekistan has signed two very important conventions with the International Labor Organization, it has also issued a decree, and a national action plan on this matter and it is now important I think for those to be implemented. I’ll take one or two more questions.
Rahimjan Sultanov Golos Rosii (Radio Voice of Russia): It’s good that you appreciated the efforts of Uzbekistan in stability and peace in Afghanistan. But Afghanistan has also other neighbors as well. How do you assess the role of Russia and China in improving the situation in Afghanistan?
Assistant Secretary Blake: We appreciate very much the role of Russia as well in Afghanistan. As you know President Obama and President Medvedev had a summit earlier this year in which they announced their intention to have Russia cooperate more and they announced a specific agreement on the possible future transit of lethal goods through Russian territory. Secretary Clinton also had consultations with her counterpart yesterday Foreign Minister Lavrov and once again I’d like to express my optimism that the US and Russia have mutual interests in Afghanistan and will be able to cooperate to help to achieve the stabilization of Afghanistan.
Sergey Ejkov (Uzmetronom website): Mr. Blake, Uzbekistan’s President Karimov initiated the 6+3 initiative while he was in Bucharest on stabilization of Afghanistan. What’s the attitude of the US to this or the US administration to this initiative? Is there practical implementation of this offer?
Assistant Secretary Blake: The primary focus of the US and the international community now is to await the results of the election and to await the results of the Electoral Complaints Commission’s deliberation on the election. President Karimov gave us very valuable advice about the situation in Afghanistan and I assured him that Ambassador Holbrooke who is our special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan hopes to visit Uzbekistan very soon to be able to carry on more detailed discussions with the government of Uzbekistan.