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Diplomacy in Action

Interview With Azattyk

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


Azattyk: Welcome, Mr. Blake. Again, you come to Kyrgyzstan very often and the first question is what’s the aim of this time, of your visit this time? And if you will meet with officials, what will be the topics of the discussion?

Assistant Secretary Blake: First let me say how pleased I am to be back in Kyrgyzstan. I always enjoy coming back to the lovely city of Bishkek and I always appreciate the opportunity to see President Atambayev and other members of his government.

We attach great importance to our relations with the Government of Kyrgyzstan not only because of the important progress that your government is making on democracy, but also because of the important efforts that your country is undertaking to help the process of transition and the process of stabilization inside Afghanistan, and also because we want to work to help build up the economy of Kyrgyzstan, again, to help your country be as stable as possible.

Azattyk: I asked about will there be any official meetings?

Assistant Secretary Blake: We’ll have a meeting with President Atambayev.

Azattyk: I mention the topic of Transit Center, and it looks like this will be the main topic when you will meet President Atambayev, and as he earlier already stated, that he is against Transit Center remaining here after 2014. And what if after your meetings with him, he will still remain with his opinion and he will insist on removing this Transit Center? What will be your future steps after that?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Let me say first of all that from the perspective of the United States, the Transit Center is not the most important issue in our bilateral relations. The most important issue is to continue to develop and broaden our cooperation with the Government of Kyrgyzstan on a wide range of issues. Certainly we appreciate very much the support of President Atambayev and his government for continuing the existing contract that we have on the Manas Transit Center, and we’re very prepared to have discussions about the future of Manas after 2014. But again, I want to stress that we are also following very closely the progress on democracy here in this country. We are helping to address some internal challenges such as drug trafficking and terrorism that might emanate from Afghanistan, and again, we’re working to help support the development of Kyrgyzstan and to promote regional integration and regional trade which will benefit the Kyrgyz people.

Azattyk: Still continuing the topic of the Transit Center, our local people who are against the location of the Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan, they actually say in case if the United States and Iran will find themselves in a war, that Iran might attack Kyrgyzstan, and also Kyrgyzstan will be hated by our neighbor Moslem countries, negatively regarded. In this case could you give your vision of it? Can you assure that now no military actions against Iran will be taken using the Transit Center?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Let me begin by saying that the United States is committed to working with the group called the P5+1 to encourage a diplomatic solution to the crisis with Iran. But as President Obama and Secretary Clinton have said many times, time is short for such a diplomatic solution so it is very important that Iran engage and negotiate in good faith and provide access to the International Atomic Energy Agency to its nuclear facilities so that the international community can be assured that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

We remain very committed to abiding by the terms of our contract with the Government of Kyrgyzstan regarding how the Transit Center is to be used. Those terms are that we use the Transit Center for sending troops to Afghanistan, all of our troops, almost all of our troops that go into Afghanistan come through the Manas Transit Center, and is also for the provision of fuel and other supplies. But it is not for the purpose of any kind of military offensive operations either against Afghanistan or against any other country, so I’d like to reassure the people of Kyrgyzstan about that.

Azattyk: I have to ask one more question regarding the Transit Center, as it’s our Russian colleagues and Iran experts also said and as well as Atambayev himself, said that there is a threat that in case if America finds itself in a war with Iran, Iran will retaliate with launching the rockets against the Transit Center. Can you reassure again that this will not happen? This Transit Center will not be used for a war with Iran?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Again, I can’t speak for the Government of Iran what they’re going to do. One of the reasons all of us are so concerned about Iran is that they are very unpredictable. But certainly we would discourage any effort on the part of Iran to destabilize in any way Kyrgyzstan or any other friendly country. And again, speaking for the United States, we intend to abide by the terms of our contract with the Government of Kyrgyzstan, and those do not provide for the use of the Manas Transit Center for any kind of offensive military operations.

Azattyk: Regarding transiting the cargo from Afghanistan through our Transit Center, there is in the news that we know we were informed that Russia is providing this option of giving it for airport at Ulyanovsk. To what extent this may be used, and this is true and it can be used?

The second question is that since there is a thought that since Kyrgyzstan stated that it will withdraw its Transit Center in 2014 Russia is trying to catch this idea and to get this Transit Center onto their territory. What can you say in regard to this?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Let me just say that with respect to the transit of cargo going into Afghanistan but also coming out of Afghanistan, again, we appreciate the support of the Government of Kyrgyzstan. But we’re always looking for other routes for the transit of cargo. Now that many of our troops will be leaving Afghanistan their equipment will go with them so it will be important to have as many routes as possible to help that process. So certainly we welcome the opportunity to work with the Government of Russia, with which we’ve already had very cooperative relations with respect to Afghanistan.

Azattyk: In the RECCA conference that was in Dushanbe there was this question raised about the United States that it was suggested for the regional countries to stop, to lessen the relations with Iran until at least Iran comes back to, under the international norms. There is this idea that Central Asian states, especially five of them, are under severe influence of Russia. To what extent you think you believe that these countries will accept this suggestion that they should lessen their relationship with Iran?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Again, I think it’s important for all countries around the world to encourage Iran to negotiate in good faith so that a diplomatic solution can be found to the problem with Iran, but as President Obama and Secretary Clinton have said many times, the time and the opportunity for a diplomatic solution is short. And so it’s very important to seize this opportunity now, and for all of our friends in the region to encourage Iran to come to the negotiating table in good faith. That is the purpose of our sanctions and the UN Security Council sanctions.

Thank you.

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