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Press Availability Following the U.S.-Uzbekistan Annual Bilateral Consultations


Remarks
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Tashkent, Uzbekistan
August 17, 2012

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MR. PENN: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this interview with Assistant Secretary Robert Blake. Assistant Secretary Blake is in charge of South and Central Asia, which includes every country from Bangladesh to Kazakhstan, and of course including Uzbekistan, and who is here for the Annual Bilateral Consultations between Uzbekistan and the United States. This is the third Annual Bilateral Consultation.

Saida and I will call upon you for questions, but Assistant Secretary Blake will begin with an introduction. This will go about 20, 30 minutes, and we look forward to your questions. And this is all on the record, so you can use whatever is said here. Thank you.

Assistant Secretary Blake. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you, Brian. And welcome. It’s nice to see some familiar faces here. I’m delighted to be back here in Tashkent for our third round of annual bilateral consultations. We have made good progress to broaden and deepen our relationship with Uzbekistan as we celebrate 20 years of bilateral relations.

I brought a very large interagency delegation with me from Washington, representing 10 different U.S. Government agencies, reflecting the importance that we attach to our relationship with Uzbekistan and also the growing scope of cooperation that we have.

I had a productive meeting with President Karimov and also appreciated Foreign Minister Kamilov’s chairing of the Annual Bilateral Consultations. I expressed our appreciation to the Government of Uzbekistan for its efforts on Afghanistan, such as its provision of discounted electricity, its construction of the rail line to Mazar-e-Sharif, and its support for the Northern Distribution Network.

We discussed cooperation in a wide range of other areas from trade to energy, agriculture, health, parliamentary exchanges, education, science and technology, counternarcotics, border security, counterterrorism, religious freedom, trafficking in persons, and human rights. In many sessions this time, we ran over the time limit, and I think in the future, given our growing engagement, we may have to extend our consultations into a second day, which I think reflects the real dialogue that we are now developing.

I am pleased that, in conjunction with the annual bilateral consultations, the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce organized an important business forum today. Fifty U.S. businesspeople representing 25 U.S. companies attended the forum chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Azimov and Minister Ganiev. We were pleased that Lockheed Martin and the [Uzbekistani] government announced their intention to move forward with negotiations for an air traffic management program.

We were also pleased that the Government of Uzbekistan hosted, as part of the Annual Bilateral Consultations, the inaugural civil society forum to discuss the role of civil society in working with and supporting the parliament in areas such as parliamentary oversight, promoting the rule of law, and ensuring adherence to international human rights norms. This was the first time we have done such a civil society forum in the framework of our ABCs. I hope we can broaden the scope of issues and participation in the future.

Let me also take this opportunity to congratulate Uzbekistan for the gold medal that your freestyle wrestler won and for the three bronze medals that Uzbekistan won.

Let me conclude by thanking Ambassador Krol and his excellent team for the superb job that they are doing to advance American interests in Uzbekistan and develop our partnership. Again thank you very much for coming, and I’d be glad to take your questions.

Let me also just wish all of you and all of the people of Uzbekistan a happy Eid al-Fitr. I also had the honor of passing a letter from President Obama to President Karimov extending those same good wishes.

QUESTION: Russian News Agency Novosti.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Recently, the parliament of Uzbekistan –

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: You can speak in –

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you for that question. As you know, we do have plans underway, as part of the overall NATO effort to transition our forces out of Afghanistan and to train the Afghan National Security Forces so they can take full responsibility for their security by the end of 2014.

As to your question about bases in Uzbekistan, we are aware of the parliamentary action. This is a sovereign matter for Uzbekistan that we fully respect, and we have no plans to establish a base in Uzbekistan.

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you. With regard to your first question, we had a very long and detailed discussion in the human dimension portion of our annual bilateral consultations that covered the full range of issues regarding human rights, religious freedom, and trafficking in persons. As always, we don’t discuss individual cases publicly, or the nature of our dialogue with the government, but we do on a regular basis raise individual cases with the government, and that remains an important part of our dialogue.

On the question of Lockheed Martin, I have not yet had a chance to see the press release that Lockheed Martin has released, but I understand that they have released one today. So I would refer you to that press release for more details on the air traffic management system.

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

MODERATOR: (In a foreign language.)

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I have heard about the mobile operator, MTS. And this was briefly discussed in the course of the consultations, and we were told that Ambassador Nematov, your ambassador in the United States, will be in touch with members of the U.S. Congress who have expressed their concern about some developments in this case. As with all cases of this nature, the United States urges that the defendants be accorded full due process and that they be treated fairly, in accordance with appropriate laws.

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I’ll have to let the individual companies speak for themselves, but I think the fact that we had a very large business delegation in the middle of what is normally our summer holidays in the United States shows the considerable interest that does exist on the part of our business community in business opportunities here in Uzbekistan. As I said in my remarks to the business forum today, several major American companies, such as Boeing and General Motors, General Electric, Case New Holland, and others have enjoyed considerable success here in Uzbekistan. And I think there are others who would like to see such opportunities themselves.

Of course, there are issues that need to be addressed. I mentioned in my remarks today the question of convertibility of currency and contract sanctity. We discussed these matters during the annual bilateral consultations, and we were pleased that the Government of Uzbekistan is prepared to have a dialogue about how to improve the investment climate and listen to the concerns of investors.

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’m sorry, the visit of what?

MODERATOR: The visit of these business people – the 50 business – large --

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, first of all, I can tell you that I myself have sampled many of Uzbekistan’s excellent fruits, and it’s a particularly good time right now. There are a wonderful array of things that are available from the Fergana Valley and elsewhere, and so I can certainly attest to the high quality of the fruits here.

As to your question about whether American companies are going to be engaged in food processing of one sort or another, I have not yet received a detailed readout of the discussions today. But I can tell you that our U.S. Agency for International Development has been active in the agricultural area and has provided a lot of assistance and advice to farmers about how they can increase their yields. And I think that that has been used in a very effective way by Uzbek farmers. And so we’ve been very pleased to have a very small role in helping improve agricultural productivity here in Uzbekistan.

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I don’t want to make any predictions about the future of Afghanistan or the Taliban, but I can tell you what the United States (and what the NATO alliance) is preparing to do to help Afghanistan. Many of you saw the results of the NATO summit that was held recently in Chicago. At that summit, most of the NATO alliance pledged continued support for Afghanistan to continue to train and assist the Afghan National Security Forces after 2014.

For our part, the United States and Afghanistan have concluded this year a strategic partnership agreement that will provide a framework for our relations from 2014 to 2024. We will separately negotiate a security agreement that will determine the number of forces that the United States will have in Afghanistan post-2014. But I can assure you that the United States remains committed to the security of Afghanistan, and we also remain committed to working with countries like Uzbekistan, not only because they’re partners of ours, but because they have been very helpful in helping to develop the Northern Distribution Network and have incurred some risk in doing so. So it is very much in our interest to provide assistance – nonlethal assistance – to help them defend themselves, to help improve border security, and to help with various kinds of counternarcotics efforts. So these efforts are ongoing and we continue to make assessments with Uzbekistan and with other countries about what the threats are and then we respond accordingly.

QUESTION: One more addition. When this agreement about the proceeding of the American military to be in Afghanistan will be signed?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The --

QUESTION: Another agreement?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: -- negotiations are expected to begin sometime this year, and I can’t say when they will conclude.

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

MODERATOR: (In a foreign language.)

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We did discuss the Aral Sea in the course of our consultations yesterday. Uzbekistan is the rotating chair of the International Fund for the Aral Sea, and is interested in cooperation to help address some of the challenges that exist in that region. And we, from our side, expressed our willingness to work with Uzbekistan and with other countries in the region on any ideas that Uzbekistan might suggest. So that is a potential area for follow-up and future cooperation.

In addition, we have American nongovernmental organizations that are also working on various aspects and are now developing cooperation in this area. So again, I think this is an area for potential future cooperation, and certainly, we share the Government of Uzbekistan’s concern about the environmental conditions there and would be glad to listen to any proposals they have for future cooperation.

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.) (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: (In a foreign language.)

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: (Laughter.) That’s not my job to try to figure out how to cool down relations. (Laughter.) My job is to try to figure out how to resolve problems between our countries and how to build up cooperation between our countries. And I think we’re making good progress in that regard, and again, I think the Annual Bilateral Consultation mechanism has been a useful way not only to think creatively about new areas of cooperation, but also to build trust so we can work on the more difficult areas where we don’t agree, like human rights and trafficking-in-persons and areas such as that.

So again, I think we’re making good progress on most of these issues. To be sure, there’s still much more to be done on the human rights front, but as I said earlier, we’ve had a very extensive discussion of all of those issues yesterday, and we’ll continue to work hard on all those issues.

QUESTION: (In foreign language.)

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.) (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: (In a foreign language.)

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I’m very sorry to disappoint you all, but I have not signed any agreement with – (laughter) – Uzbekistan on – to establish a new base nor do we have any intention to do so, as I said earlier. So I don't know where – I haven’t heard this VOA statement that you refer to. If they did make such a statement, it is incorrect, and I will hereby deny it and say that it is not true.

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

MODERATOR: (In a foreign language.)

QUESTION: (In a foreign language.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you all. Very nice to see you. Thank you.



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