QUESTION: If you don’t mind I’ll ask a few questions on Kyrgyzstan.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’d be delighted.
QUESTION: First of all, do you think that these past elections were free and fair? Maybe I missed something, but I didn’t see the words free and fair in the statement made by President Obama. So were they free and fair?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: When the President put out his statement to begin with, a lot of the observers hadn’t yet made their determination about whether these were free and fair elections.
I think the consensus among most of the observers was that yes, they were largely free and fair.
QUESTION: And you share this assessment, right?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Definitely. I think the observers clearly identified some concerns such as some of the election lists that were not properly updated, but overall, I think they were very impressed with the conduct of the elections and we certainly welcomed the fact that these were conducted in a very orderly manner in which a very large percentage of the Kyrgyz people had the opportunity to exercise their democratic rights.
QUESTION: So basically these elections were free and fair and that would be a correct assessment, right?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I’ll just go back to what I said earlier.
Mr. [Assistant] Secretary, there are some skeptics including those in Russia who said the parliamentary model is not for Kyrgyzstan and they argued that it will only expose countries to more violence. What would be your response to these people?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: My response would be that the parliamentary elections I think were a very important step in building a successful and stable democracy, and that such parliamentary systems are one way of allowing governments to respond to the needs and to the views of their people. And particularly in a country like Kyrgyzstan which has other minorities, this is a very successful way to make sure that their views are also factored into the democratic process.
So I think such systems can enhance stability in countries like Kyrgyzstan, and I think Kyrgyzstan is off to a very promising start now.
QUESTION: Are you on the same page with your Russian colleagues on this subject, on this parliamentary model? Some people say in Moscow that the strong presidential power probably would be better for Kyrgyz[stan’s] authorities at that moment.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I haven’t really had a chance to talk to the Russians about this, but I know that we and the Russians have worked closely together on Kyrgyzstan and we’ve supported efforts to try to stabilize that country and to assist them after the terrible violence that took place in June. So I think they share our interest in moving forward now and helping the people of Kyrgyzstan and helping the government of Kyrgyzstan.
QUESTION: Obviously the next step is formation of the coalition government in Kyrgyzstan. What type of government would you like to see in place? Would you care if some nationalistic political figures will be represented in this new government? Because some of the political leaders actually call for closure of Manas in particular. Is that something that might concern you?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We support the process of democratization but we don’t have any particular party we are seeking to support or any particular outcome that we’re seeking to support. I think it’s up to the parties themselves to determine what coalition can be formed and then once that coalition is formed, to appoint a prime minister and a cabinet. After that they will make their own decisions about what policies they intend to pursue.
As with any government, we will be more than happy to work with that government and to continue our efforts to support the people of Kyrgyzstan and to support that new government. I don’t want to try to predict what specific positions any new government might take on things like Manas, but I will say we think that the transit center is something that is very much in the interest of both the people of the United States, but also the people of Kyrgyzstan, because we share an interest in stabilizing that important country, in Afghanistan, and ensuring that extremists and terrorists that are based in Afghanistan cannot pose a threat either to the United States or to Kyrgyzstan.
QUESTION: Do you expect the new government to abide by agreements that you have with the Republic of Kyrgyzstan? Including those on Manas or maybe others.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, that will be up to the new government to make a decision about that. We’re prepared at any time to discuss that with the new government. Again, we think this is in our interest and in their interest, but this is their sovereign country so of course we’re prepared to have a dialogue at any point on this matter.
QUESTION: Mr. [Assistant] Secretary, do you see any signs indicating that former President Bakiyev is still trying to use his influence in order to destabilize the situation in the south of Kyrgyzstan?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I haven’t seen any recent signs of that I must say, but it’s something that we need to always be aware of. That’s one of the reasons why the United States has supported the idea of an international investigation into who was behind the violence in June so that those people can be brought to justice and such violence can be prevented in the future.
QUESTION: Would it be fair to say that Bakiyev is history now and nothing can bring him back to political life in Kyrgyzstan?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, that’s up to the current government, but I think that for the positions that I’ve seen thus far, I’ve seen no indication that anybody is seeking to bring former President Bakiyev back to Kyrgyzstan. From what I gather, everybody is very focused on the results of the successful elections and how to now move forward to further strengthen democracy inside Kyrgyzstan.
QUESTION: President Otunbayeva has said that private companies handling fuel supplies at Manas should be replaced by a joint venture between Kyrgyz state company and Russia state controlled Gazprom Neft. She also said that such arrangement would reduce corruption. Don’t you think that it’s a good idea? And don’t you think it will open an opportunity to expand your cooperation with Russia specifically on Kyrgyzstan?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes. In principle we’re open to the idea of a joint venture of some kind such as the one you describe. Talks are ongoing on this subject and are being handled by our Department of Defense, so I’m not really able to comment on the specifics of this. But yes, we do want to be transparent about all such contracts, and if there’s an opportunity to cooperate with Russia then we would welcome that.
QUESTION: By the way, what do you make of all the talk of another rent hike for Manas? Some political leaders in Kyrgyzstan called for a rent increase. What do you think about it? Would you be willing to discuss this subject with the new government?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t want to speculate about that. First of all we have to have discussions, if they choose to have those discussions. Again, it’s completely up to them what they’d like to talk about and we’re prepared to talk about all these issues, but I don’t want to speculate about any increase in rent or anything else. That’s something that will be discussed first on a bilateral government to government basis, and at some appropriate time we might be able to talk about that publicly.
QUESTION: It’s my understanding that nobody in the interim government raised this issue so far, right?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Not that I’m aware of. Again, I think they’re focused mostly on forming their new government. They’re not thinking yet about some specific issues like that.
QUESTION: Mr. [Assistant] Secretary, are you going to proceed with this training center in [Batken], the so-called [Osh-Poligon]?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I think that’s another matter that we’ll need to discuss. I think there are a number of areas we can cooperate with the new government in terms of border security and counter narcotics training and things like that. So it will be a matter for them to determine what their priorities are and we’ll be very pleased to engage in dialogue and how we can help them to meet their priorities.
QUESTION: Mr. [Assistant] Secretary, is the Kyrgyz government still resisting the idea of deployment of the Police Advisory Group in the republic?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The position they took was they wanted to defer this matter until after the elections. Again, I think they will have to first form a new government and appoint ministers, and at that point they will make a decision about this matter. I think we continue to believe that the Police Advisory Group could play a very valuable role in training and mentoring some of the police forces in Kyrgyzstan, and again, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with the new government.
QUESTION: But my understanding that the position of the U.S. government is that you support basically the idea of --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We do. We were part of the entire OSCE, Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, which supported this idea. We have already dedicated U.S. personnel who would be part of the 52 member team that would be prepared to go. But at this point they are waiting again for the new government to be formed so that this can be discussed.
QUESTION: Mr. [Assistant] [Secretary, my last question. How big is the financial support of the U.S. government for Kyrgyzstan in the new fiscal year? Are there any plans to increase this assistance in the future?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The United States has provided a total of $130 million this year which is quite a substantial contribution to the people of Kyrgyzstan. We’ve just announced some recent contributions of an additional $15.8 million which will be going to community economic development and security, particularly in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan. We also announced some additional food security assistance. That’s all part of the $130 million that I was referring to.
So we are continuing to evaluate how we can help the people of Kyrgyzstan and the government of Kyrgyzstan, but I think that America has been very generous in its response so far and as President Obama told President Otunbayeva when they met in New York, the United States will continue to work with Kyrgyzstan to try to meet some of their very urgent needs.
QUESTION: Mr. [Assistant] Secretary, thank you so much.