Ambassador Elliott: I’m Susan Elliott, the U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan and I have the great pleasure to introduce Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Ambassador Robert Blake. We’ve had a lot of good meetings yesterday and today with President Rahmon and Foreign Minister Zarifi so he’s here to brief you and answer your questions. Secretary Blake.
Assistant Secretary Blake: Good afternoon everyone, it’s nice to see a lot of familiar faces. Let me tell you how pleased I am to be back here in Dushanbe. I would like to begin by thanking our Tajik hosts for their warm hospitality over the last two days. I would also like to thank Ambassador Elliott for her introduction and for the great job she and her great team are doing here representing the United States in Tajikistan.
I have come to Dushanbe to discuss the full range of matters on our bilateral agenda. I appreciated the opportunity yesterday to meet with President Rahmon and today to meet with Foreign Minister Zarifi and a wide range of other Tajik officials. I thanked the President and the Foreign Minister for Tajikistan’s strong support of stabilization and economic integration efforts in Afghanistan. I assured the President that the United States has an enduring commitment to our strategic partnership with Afghanistan and with the Afghan people.
We also reviewed how we might strengthen our cooperation in the areas of border security, counterterrorism, and counternarcotics. I congratulated the President on Tajikistan’s impending accession to the World Trade Organization. We expect that the WTO implementation process will help improve the overall business and investment climate in Tajikistan and contribute toward our shared vision of greater trade and investment and connectivity in this region.
Finally, I discussed with our friends in the Tajik government the importance of working with the OSCE to ensure free and fair elections later this year; and the need to provide space for nongovernmental organizations, journalists, and other members of civil society to operate freely.
At the beginning of my visit, I appreciated the opportunity to visit the OSCE Border Management Staff College here in Dushanbe, which is doing great work to train Afghans, Tajiks, and many other nationalities with the strong support of the United States. I also met with members of the American Chamber of Commerce to discuss how we might expand trade and investment opportunities here in Tajikistan.
Finally, I had a productive session with a wide range of civil society organizations. So with that I’d be pleased to take a few questions.
Questions: Regarding the amendment which improves trade relations and strengthens them. Are you going to cancel this amendment? And since Tajikistan is one of the NIS countries, so of course it’s subject to all the provisions of this amendment. So what is your opinion about this?
Assistant Secretary Blake: We have several countries that are making progress on their WTO accession. First, Tajikistan itself is expected to accede in March and after that Kazakhstan may accede later this year. So, as those accessions proceed, we will review the lifting of Jackson-Vanik for those countries.
Questions: Yesterday in your meeting with Emomali Rahmon you discussed a range of issues related to counternarcotics, and the question is…the most surprising fact is that after the entrance of NATO to Afghanistan the rate of narcotics production has increased significantly and the question is how are you going to resolve this issue? Do you have some action plan to resolve this issue because this is really surprising that not only in Afghanistan but in other countries like Burma, where after the entrance of NATO, excuse me, of the U.S. armed forces, there were similar incidents, right? There was a reported increase in rates of drug production; do you have any action plan how to resolve this?
Assistant Secretary Blake: Well, let me just say that efforts to reduce drug cultivation inside Afghanistan are a very important priority for Afghanistan but also for the United States and other partners. And those efforts will continue to be an important priority and that’s why we particularly attach importance to working with governments such as Tajikistan, to interdict those shipments that might be coming across Tajikistan’s border.
Questions (IRPT): The question is related to one of the issues discussed with the President regarding ensuring transparent and fair presidential elections in November. Of course, we have a good experience of conducting fair and transparent elections in Tajikistan. The President was the main granter of this transparency during the elections. How can we talk about transparency in the elections when Mr. President has nominated himself for this forthcoming election and there is a delay in passing one amendment to the constitution…recently one amendment was developed ensuring transparency, amendment to the law of the election was developed, and the draft has been submitted to the government but unfortunately for some reasons there is a delay in passing this very important amendment to the law on elections. So how can we talk about transparency if such cases happen here?
Assistant Secretary Blake: Well I just want to say that we believe that there should be multi-party elections. Of course, the ruling party can choose whichever candidate they would like to run but the other parties should also have the choice to do so. And again I stress that it’s important for the government to work with OSCE and others to ensure that free and fair elections can take place.
Questions (VOA): There are some concerns that after the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and after the withdrawal of ISF from Afghanistan there will be some sort of instability in the region. Do you have some sort of action plan on how to prevent this instability?
Assistant Secretary Blake: Thank you for that question. First of all, we’re engaged in a process now to train the Afghan National Security Forces and to give them the capabilities so that they are fully prepared to assume full responsibility for security at the end of 2014. The security transition is already making good progress in the sense that the Afghan National Security Forces now are in charge of territory where 90% of the Afghan population lives and they are also leading 80% of the security operations that are taking place in Afghanistan. President Obama and other leaders of the NATO alliance have not made any decisions about the number of troops that will remain after 2014 but they have said that we will continue to train Afghan Forces, that we will continue to assist with counterterrorism, and that we will continue to support the budget of the Afghan National Security Forces.
Questions (Afghan News): As the representative of the U.S. Government in the region, what can you say about Afghanistan’s current situation? American soldiers are still stuck in Afghanistan and terrorism and drugs are still increasing. What do you think about that?
Assistant Secretary Blake: Well, I think I already answered that question and that is that we have a direct commitment to the people of Afghanistan and that we will continue to remain engaged there on the full range of issues both to help the security transition but also the political transition and the economic transition that are taking place in Afghanistan.
Questions: What do you think about Pakistan helping enemy forces? What is the United States’ view on the efforts of Pakistan in supporting our enemies, including Al-Qaeda and equipping them against Afghanistan?
Assistant Secretary Blake: Pakistan’s role is an extremely important one. First, it’s very important that Pakistan take action to stop the activities, attacks by terrorist groups that are based in Pakistan, particularly groups such as the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba but it’s also very important that Pakistan take steps to support the reconciliation process, the peace process, and the Secretary and others have welcomed the recent steps that Pakistan has taken in that regard. So we’ll make that the last question. And again I thank you for coming.