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Diplomacy in Action

Interview With Kloop

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Bishkek, Kazakhstan
April 1, 2012



April 1, 2012

Kloop: Basically the first question, I think, why are you here today? What is the main goal of your visit?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I’m here just to continue our regular consultations with President Atambayev and his government about all the important issues on our agenda. We’re talking a lot about Afghanistan, of course, and the important transition that is taking place in Afghanistan. We very much appreciate the support that Kyrgyzstan has provided for the stabilization of Afghanistan. But we’re also continuing to talk about democracy here in Kyrgyzstan, about the importance of reconciliation, about the importance of dealing with some of the issues like corruption that are still very much on the minds of the Kyrgyz people, and then lastly, we’re talking about economic issues as well. I’ve just come from a very important conference in Tajikistan where all of the countries of the region endorsed an Afghan plan for regional integration that will help to provide for private sector investment in Afghanistan, but also in the region. So we’re very encouraged about that. So there are many many things on our agenda right now, but we very much value our relations with Kyrgyzstan and with the President and his team.

Kloop: Have you managed to meet the President at all?

Assistant Secretary Blake: We’ll see him tomorrow.

Kloop: As far as I can understand the Transit Center and Manas Airport will be one of the main topics.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Yes.

Kloop: So what is the current status of this Transit Center and what it’s going to be like after 2014?

Assistant Secretary Blake: We appreciate very much the support that President Atambayev and his government have given to continuing the existing contract we have that runs through the middle of 2014. We’re also more than happy to enter into discussions with the new government about the future of the Manas Transit Center. A lot will depend on what the future American presence will be in Afghanistan. We have some important conferences coming up, particularly the NATO Summit that will be occurring in Chicago in May. At that time we expect to have completed a Strategic Partnership Declaration with Afghanistan that will talk about our future presence in Afghanistan after 2014. Once we have that, then we can begin to talk to many of our friends in the neighborhood, including Kyrgyzstan, about what role there may be for those countries as well.

Kloop: I think it was Secretary of Defense who visited Kyrgyzstan.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Yes.

Kloop: I think he mentioned that even if Transit Center is closed in 2014 there is a possibility that it will still be used but not as a military, not for supporting military operations, but for supporting civic operations, as far as I could asses. Can you clarify?

Assistant Secretary Blake: President Atambayev has expressed his interest in trying to civilianize the Manas Transit Center and to make it into a civilian hub. So we’re very interested in hearing his ideas and those of the Kyrgyz government about how to do that. As I say, we may have our own ideas as well after the NATO Summit in Chicago about what further needs we might have as well.

Kloop: So no ideas can be clarified before the NATO Summit?

Assistant Secretary Blake: We’re not ready to get into a detailed discussion about that yet. A lot of what we may need will depend on the wishes of Afghanistan.

Kloop: And one more thing. This is something that actually I think is very interesting to many students in our school and several of them asked this question. There was a feeling from many of them that when Transit Center in Manas has appeared, the United States has a little bit forgotten about the human rights situation in the country, and sometimes closed eyes on issues, especially presidential elections in 2009, and even things like cooperating in some way with Bakiyev’s family. How can you comment on this? Do you agree with this at all?

Assistant Secretary Blake: First of all let me say that human rights is a very important part of our policy in every country in Central Asia and indeed around the world. But Kyrgyzstan is really quite an important example for the rest of the Central Asian countries. You've had this very important democratic transition take place to a parliamentary democracy here. You also have the most active civil society in the region. You also have the most active women political participation in the region which I think is quite notable and something that we’re trying to encourage around the world. So I think all of those are positive examples.

But I think there are also still challenges to be sure, in Kyrgyzstan. We’ve talked about the need to continue the process of reconciliation, to implement the recommendations of the Kiljunen report that was done about the importance of reconciliation. But also to deal with the aftermath of the violence of April and June of 2010 and to be sure that the people who were responsible for that violence are brought to justice. Thus far most of the people that have been brought to justice have been ethnic Uzbeks. We have expressed our concern about some of those cases, particularly the case of Mr. Askarov for whom we do not believe there was sufficient due process and we do not believe his conviction was based on really solid evidence.

So we’ve expressed our concerns to the government about that. We continue to do so. As you know, our Ambassador also visited with Mr. Askarov. So this will remain an important part of our conversation with Kyrgyzstan as it is with all of the countries in the region.

Kloop: Talking about Askarov. How do you actually help him in such a situation? I understand the U.S. probably cannot interfere into the judicial system of Kyrgyzstan, but what are the measures that you take in order to help Askarov in such a situation when you think he’s unjustly --

Assistant Secretary Blake: Again, we’ve made our concerns known from the beginning about the importance of due process. We’ve encouraged the government to allow appeals processes and to hopefully consider those. There’s still room for potential amnesties of some sort for him, and we think that again, he’s a very important symbol and, we attach a lot of importance to that.

I think that will continue to be an important area of discussion, but we also want to be sure, of course, that he’s well treated while he’s in prison as well. So that’s yet another part of our conversation.

Kloop: So it’s just advising, basically. It’s not doing some action in order to help. Like, for example, hiring lawyers for him or something like this.

Assistant Secretary Blake: No, we don’t do that. But we do want to make sure that his rights are respected and again, that the Kyrgyz government understands that his case is quite important symbolically for a lot of people. Inside Kyrgyzstan and also outside of Kyrgyzstan.

Kloop: I think this is the time for the question from our student. He will ask it in Russian.

Assistant Secretary Blake: [Through Interpreter]. Assistant Secretary, as we know besides the regular forces, military people in Afghanistan there are so-called private armies there in Afghanistan, and as well as in Iraq it was. As we know, when America withdrew from Iraq a lot of these private companies remained in Iraq. I’m not sure about the numbers, but what I hear, it varies between from 50,000 to 200,000. Obama it is also stated that America will withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014. And it looks like these private companies will remain in Afghanistan as well. Maybe in small amounts. Then they will need some kind of goods to be transported to them, to Afghanistan. How would that be done if Pakistan is closing their bases, Transit Center in future is going to be closed after 2014?

Assistant Secretary Blake: First of all let me congratulate Kloop for having the initiative to train young citizen journalists, which I think is a terrific initiative. We’d be glad to work with you to try to arrange exchange programs and training of various kinds because we think that’s an important part of a democracy is to have a free press, so we congratulate you on that.

As to your question, which is a complicated question, I think you’re referring to the role of private security contractors, American security contractors inside Afghanistan. In accordance with the wishes of the Afghan government we’re in the process now of transitioning their role as well over to a reliance on what’s called the Afghan Public Protection Force, the APPF.

So the role of private security contracts, American security contractors, is going to be phased out and all development agencies, NGOs and others who need the services of such companies will rely on the Afghan Public Protection Force for such security.

Again, that’s very consistent with the overall effort that NATO countries are making to transition our own troops and our own forces out of Afghanistan to train the Afghan National Security Forces so that they can assume responsibility for Afghan security all by the end of 2014.

But again, even after the end of 2014 the United States expects to have some military personnel who will remain, mostly in a training role to help continue the process of training the ANSF.

I hope that answers your question.

Kloop: If for example one day someone from Bakiyev’s family or maybe Bakiyev himself or his closest relatives would come to the U.S. and seek for asylum, let’s say, how would U.S. you think will behave in such a situation? Would you extradite them back to Kyrgyzstan? Or would you give them the asylum? What is the usual policy in such cases?

Assistant Secretary Blake: We don’t like to deal in hypotheticals because it’s different in every case and a lot depends on whether we have extradition treaties, and even then we don’t comment publicly about those kind of legal arrangements. But I think certainly we would want to do everything we can to work with friendly governments. For example, right after Bakiyev left we tried to do everything we could to try to help locate some of the funds that he may have stolen from Kyrgyzstan. Unfortunately we were not very successful in doing so, because he managed to hide them very well, but we would still be interested in any information the government has about that and we’re always willing to try to help. Because, again, it’s such an important part of our policy to encourage this democratic process and to support the democratic process that has occurred here. We have no interest in seeing Bakiyev or any of his brothers return to power here in any way.

Kloop: Thank you very much.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Thank you.

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