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Diplomacy in Action

Press Conference in Bishkek

Press Conference
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
April 15, 2010


ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Good afternoon. Thank you all for joining us. I have had a very productive two-day visit to Bishkek. Secretary Clinton sent me to hear directly from the members of the provisional government and offer the support of the U.S. for the steps they are taking both to restore law and order and to organize a return to democracy in Kyrgyzstan.

I appreciated the opportunity to meet with the Head of the Provisional Government for the People’s Trust Ms. Otunbayeva as well as other provisional government members. I expressed my condolences for the more than 80 Kyrgyz citizens who were killed and the more than 500 wounded during the events of April 6th and 7th.

Yesterday afternoon I took the opportunity to visit the White House and lay a wreath in memory of the victims and martyrs. The United States already has provided more than $200,000 worth of medical supplies to help treat the wounded. We are also looking at additional ways that we might be able to help.

In my meetings, I welcomed the assurances that the provisional government is working actively first to draft a new constitution that can form the basis for national elections in a six-month period. I also welcomed the provisional government’s assurances that they are working in full cooperation with the OSCE as they move forward with their plans to restore democracy.

The United States believes that the provisional government and the people of Kyrgyzstan have a unique and historic opportunity to create a democracy that could be a model for Central Asia and the wider region. I offered the full support of the United States to provide technical and other assistance to help achieve that goal. I discussed with members of the provisional government many ways in which the United States might be able to help.

I will take these back with the view to responding quickly both to help this democratic transition, and find quick ways to improve the economic and social situation. These measures would come on top of the annual assistance the United States is already providing as the largest bilateral donor to Kyrgyzstan after Russia.

In all my meetings I emphasized the importance of the provisional government working transparently and in an inclusive manner with Kyrgyz civil society to ensure the provisional government has the benefit of the views and advice of the Kyrgyz people as Kyrgyzstan moves through this important transition. I look forward to meeting with members of Kyrgyz civil society later today.

In short, I believe the provisional government is making important progress, but still faces many challenges. I am confident that the United States will be able to support the provisional government’s plans to restore democracy and human rights in Kyrgyzstan. I would be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Did you manage to discuss the issue of the Manas Transit Center with the provisional government, and if so, what was their reply?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The focus of my visit here the last few days has been to hear how the provisional government is working to restore law and order and its plans for restoring democracy here in Kyrgyzstan. I did not even have a military member in my delegation, so Manas is really not the focus of these talks. But we do appreciate the statements the provisional government has made about their intention to abide by the agreement that we do have.

QUESTION: Eurasianet. Was the State Department aware of allegations linking the Bakiyev family with fuel contracts for the Manas Transit Center.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Let me just say with respect to the fuel contracts – they are always awarded in competitive tenders and if there are any concerns about such contracts, the United States Government is prepared to review them and to be transparent.

QUESTION: Dear Mr. Ambassador, we are aware of how much and what exactly Russia is offering in assistance. Do you have exact information on the U.S. assistance?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: In terms of the U.S. assistance, as I have said, the United States is the second-largest bilateral donor here Kyrgyzstan. I believe that we provided approximately $60 million last year in various kinds of bilateral assistance, and we are looking into ways we can supplement that this year to help support the important processes that are underway to restore democracy and help to restore stability here in Kyrgyzstan.

QUESTION: Voice of America. There's been some criticism in public by members of the provisional government about the relationship between the United States and the Bakiyev Administration. What was expressed to you and what was the mood as far as how they felt about the United States and what direction did they telegraph to you about how they want the relationship to go?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: All of my meetings over the last two days have been positive and productive. I think the provisional government welcomed the willingness of the United States to support the very important processes that are underway to restore democracy and to help the people of Kyrgyzstan.

QUESTION: Interfax. How great is the possibility that the United States will join the OSCE and other international organizations in serving as an intermediary between the provisional government and Mr. Bakiyev?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The United States strongly supports the efforts of the OSCE and the Kazakhstan Chairman in Office to find a resolution to the situation involving Mr. Bakiyev.

QUESTION: Erica Marat, Voice of America Russian Service. Why didn't the U.S. ever emphasize the importance of democracy to the Bakiyev leadership and why did it take you two days to recognize the provisional government?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Let me take the second question first to say that we don't ever support governments, we support states, so that question doesn't really arise. In terms of democracy, let me just repeat what I said yesterday. Democracy and human rights are a very important component of our bilateral relations with all of the states of Central Asia, including Kyrgyzstan. As I said yesterday, the Kyrgyzstan Government sent a high-level delegation to Washington for our first-annual bilateral consultations that were to have taken place last week. We postponed those because of the events that took place on April 6th and 7th, but human rights and democracy were going to be a very important part of those consultations. Indeed, we had gotten the agreement of the Kyrgyzstan Government to have our first NGO forum, where the Kyrgyz delegation and I would have met with a wide cross-section of American NGO's who follow very closely the human rights and democracy here in Kyrgyzstan. So, again, let me just say that human rights and democracy were a very important part of our agenda.

And let me repeat that the United States very much welcomes the announcements that have already been made and the steps that have already been taken by the provisional government to restore democracy and to ensure the respect of human rights. These are very positive and welcome steps that we have indicated to the provisional government that we are prepared to support.

QUESTION: Vremya Novostei Moscow. Mr. Blake, could you please tell us in your meetings with the interim government plans to build a military training center in the south of Kyrgyzstan, for which you are planning to allocate $5.5 million?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No, that did not come up.

QUESTION: Reuters. In the course of these events, Maxim Bakiyev has been widely accused of nepotism and corruption. And yet he was allowed to travel to the United States for these consultations that you were talking about. I was just wondering whether the United States perhaps was not aware of those allegations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The United States holds these annual bilateral consultations with all of the states of Central Asia. It is up to the states of Central Asia to choose the composition of their delegation and us to choose the composition of our delegation.

QUESTION: Deutsche Welle and Global Post. Given the emotional aspect of the fuel sales and the fact that Maxim Bakiyev has been accused of being involved in them, I'd like to return to the question of my colleague. It has unleashed quite an outcry here and it could quite possibly negatively damage the reputation and standing of the United States here. I'm wondering if the United States at any point looked into these accusations, given that they've been around at least since 2006. And if not, why not, given their importance?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: First of all, let me say that these contracts are managed by the Pentagon, so I'm not directly responsible, and I'm not the best authority on these contracts. But let me repeat what I said earlier, which is that the United States is committed to full transparency with regard to these contracts, and if there have been irregularities, then we are certainly prepared to review those contracts, and if necessary, rebid those contracts to ensure that there is full transparency and respect for the Kyrgyz law.

QUESTION: AFP. Mr. Blake, how confident are you that the negotiations will not end up in bloodshed and will end in consensus. That is, negotiations between the interim government and Mr. Bakiyev.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, we support the efforts by the interim government and the OSCE special envoy to find a peaceful solution to this impasse in a way that is in accordance with the Kyrgyz constitution.

QUESTION: Mr. Blake, do you see any ways of legitimization of the interim government.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think that's a very important question and something we discussed a great deal with members of the provisional government during my meetings. I think they themselves are very conscious of the need to ensure the legitimacy of their actions. So, I encouraged them to be fully transparent in everything that they are doing, to be in very close touch with members of Kyrgyz civil society, who in turn represent the people of Kyrgyzstan, and also to work very closely with the OSCE to ensure that the steps they are taking to restore democracy and human rights are fully in accordance with OSCE standards. And I must say, from everything I heard from members of the provisional government, they intend to do so. And as they come forward with their draft of the constitution, for example, I know they intend to have a fairly lengthy period of public discussion, public comment, so that they can get the best advice and views of as wide a cross-section of the Kyrgyz people as possible. So, I welcome their assurances in that regard.

I'll take one more question.

QUESTION: Times of Central Asia. Mr. Blake, what is your vision, how will the events in Kyrgyzstan impact the decision of our neighbors to provide assistance to us? Specifically our neighbor who now chairs the OSCE, Kazakhstan?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I'm not really sure what the question is, but I think the question is how the events here will affect the provision of assistance. That is really up to Kazakhstan to make a determination about this, but let me say that the United States has been in close touch with the government of Kazakhstan, both because it is a friend of the United States, but also because it plays a very important role now as the OSCE Chairman in Office, and I think Kazakhstan shares our interest in a return to democracy and in a peaceful outcome of the Bakiyev situation in accordance with the Kyrgyz constitution.

So let me once again thank you very much for being here today, and I hope I can come back and see you all soon. Thank you.

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