SECRETARY BLINKEN: Hi everyone. Thank you Deputy Assistant Secretary Henick for that introduction.
Let me begin today, during this holy month of spiritual renewal, by wishing you a Ramadan Mubarak.
I’m delighted to host this virtual ministerial of the C5+1. And I’m glad we’re able to do this within the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris Administration. That’s a signal of the U.S. commitment to Central Asia, and my team and I look forward to further deepening our cooperation with you.
This is the five-year anniversary of the C5+1 – and it’s the 30-year anniversary of your countries achieving independence and starting your bilateral relationships with the United States. So it’s a significant year, and we have a lot to accomplish together.
I’ll just mention a few items on our agenda today, and then I’m eager to hear from you.
Let me start by going back to basics: the United States believes the countries of Central Asia should be free to pursue their political, economic, and security interests on their own terms, with a variety of partners. We share a goal of an independent, prosperous, and secure Central Asia. And the C5+1 regional diplomatic platform is a valuable means for building cooperation, and we want it to be strong.
Today, we’ll discuss critical issues, including Afghanistan, the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change.
On Afghanistan, we’ll talk more in a moment. I want to emphasize our gratitude for the contributions your countries have already made to Afghanistan and in seeking a just and durable political settlement there. Central Asia has an important opportunity to enable regional integration, which will sustain eventual peace. And you should know that the U.S. is committed to working with you to promote stability, counter threats to our collective security, and support economic growth in the region long after our forces leave Afghanistan.
On COVID-19, we’re committed to helping countries around the world, including Central Asia, end the pandemic. We’ve provided $2 billion to COVAX and will provide another $2 billion through next year. And we want to support economic recovery in Central Asia – for example, through the new two-year project we’re launching with women’s business associations across the region as part of the Women and Girls Empowered Program. COVID-19 had a very negative impact on women’s economic power and progress worldwide, and we want to address that. We’re also committed to investing in development across the region. The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation is hard at work expanding its portfolio in Central Asia.
On climate change, President Biden has made it clear that it’s back on the U.S. domestic and international agenda, and we’ll seek to play a leadership role on addressing the climate crisis globally going forward. That includes by doing all we can to support countries like yours as you work to bring down your carbon emissions and adapt to a changing climate. For example, when it comes to grid modernization and efficiency and developing clean energy projects, we want to provide whatever technical assistance we can and to help access the resources you may need to do this work. These projects can be very challenging, and we want to be a partner.
To that end, I propose that my predecessor John Kerry, who is now the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, convene a meeting of the C5+1 ministers soon, so we can discuss in more detail how our countries can work together to address the climate crisis.
And then beyond the specific topics that we’ll dive into today, I believe this group of foreign ministers should use this forum to address additional challenges, including the protection of human rights. Trafficking in persons remains a serious challenge around the world; holding perpetrators accountable while protecting victims at home and abroad is essential. Additionally, we must protect vulnerable populations like refugees; uphold people’s right to religious freedom and gender equality; and strengthen democratic institutions and respect for the rule of law, which is absolutely vital for international investment and economic growth.
Together, we’ve made significant gains in the last five years. We’ve increased economic connectivity and trade. We’ve jointly addressed security threats. We’ve advocated for women’s empowerment. Now we’re partnering to overcome the challenges of the pandemic. I’m grateful for this chance to meet for the first time since I’ve become Secretary, and I hope we get a lot done today and in the future for our countries and our people.