U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan Pamela Spratlen
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central Asia Daniel Rosenblum
Hyatt Regency Tashkent
October 29, 2016
Under Secretary Shannon: Thank you all very much for taking the time today to meet. I look forward to your questions. This is my first trip to Central Asia and my first trip to Uzbekistan. It comes on the first anniversary of Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to Central Asia and also the formation of the C5+1 platform which brings the five Central Asian countries together with the United States in diplomatic dialogue. As you know, this is a ministerial meeting that has now happened twice, once here in Uzbekistan and once in the United States and it will continue as an important platform for our engagement in Central Asia. In regard to Uzbekistan, my visit has several purposes. First, this is an opportunity to once again express our condolences for the loss of President Karimov; I had an opportunity to visit Samarkand and to lay wreath at his tomb. Second, it was an opportunity to continue our strategic dialogue with the Government of Uzbekistan which covers a wide range of issues but always with an orientation towards the future; and third, it provided us an opportunity to make clear that we are committed to the strategic partnership and that even with elections and a political transition in the United States, that Uzbekistan will remain an important and vital partner, as well as the other countries of Central Asia. Finally, if I could, I would just like to thank the interim president, the foreign minister, the government of Uzbekistan, and the people of Uzbekistan for the tremendous hospitality and kindness that has been shown to me. I very much enjoyed my trip to Samarkand and the governor of Samarkand was a very gracious host. I have come away very impressed by Uzbekistan, impressed by the people of Uzbekistan, admiring of the way in which ethnic, racial and religious diversity has been turned into a strength and has defined this country in a positive way. So, I thank you all very much for being here and I am happy to take your questions.
Eldar Asanov (Daryo.uz): My name is Eldar Asanov. I represent the Daryo.uz website. My first question may be simple but is very relevant. As you said, one year ago, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Uzbekistan and he and the other ministers set a new sphere of cooperation but since then there were some changes. Unfortunately, we lost our president recently and the United States, as well as Uzbekistan, is on the verge of presidential elections. My question is: after the elections, are you planning to make some adjustments in the relations between the United States and Uzbekistan?
Under Secretary Shannon: Thank you very much. It is a very good question. You are correct; there are elections in the United States and in Uzbekistan. As I mentioned to the foreign minister and to the interim president, one of my purposes here is to underscore the importance of the strategic relationship between Uzbekistan and the United States and to insure the Government of Uzbekistan that the strategic importance of that relationship will not change with our elections. In fact, it will only become more important. We are determined in Central Asia and with Uzbekistan to build a positive collaborative relationship that is designed to enhance the well-being of the peoples of Central Asia and the United States in a way that respects the interests of all the Central Asian countries and their traditional partners. In this regard, we wanted to make clear that Uzbekistan is an important partner for the United States and it will continue to be so.
Zamira Azizkhanova (Jahon News Agency): My name is Zamira Azizkhanova from the Jahon news agency which is a news agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. My question is: our bilateral relations are developing dynamically. Could you please share your views on the future interaction between our two countries and in what areas, in your opinion, should our cooperation be more active?
Under Secretary Shannon: Thank you very much for that question. The nature of our strategic relationship is broad. The areas of concentration run from security assistance to trade and commerce, to broad regional diplomatic activity, work within international organizations and institutions and social and humanitarian engagement with the people of Uzbekistan in the area of education and the cooperative effort to build strong democracies, civil society and promote human rights.
Yuriy Chernogayev (Anhor.uz): My name is Yuriy Chernogayev from the Anhor.uz website. I am very glad that you are here representing the top officials of the United States. That proves that the interest of the United States for Uzbekistan is still there, still the same, even after the operations in Afghanistan have been drawn down. My question is: in 2016, the situation is quite different. The Central Asian region is becoming a place of confrontation, taking into account the hegemony row of Russia and China. Taking into account the greatness of your country as being a great power, do you also plan to take the relevant place here in the Central Asian region? My second question: in your meetings with your counterparts in Uzbekistan, have you talked about a completely new evaluation of the interaction or engagement between the United States and Uzbekistan?
Ambassador Spratlen: May I just add – I think there was one nuance there – that he heard from the authorities here.
Interpreter: So, in your talks with the interim president and other officials, have they possibly made some proposals that have never been spoken out before?
Under Secretary Shannon: Thank you very much. First, in regard to Central Asia, one of the purposes of our C5+1 diplomatic initiative, the initiative that links the five Central Asian countries and the United States in dialogue is to highlight the centrality and importance of Central Asia not as an area of competition between great powers, but as a remarkably rich and diverse portion of the world that can benefit itself and the world through its globalization, through its integration and through its ability to protect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of all the countries of Central Asia. In this regard, it is not our intention to enter into competition in Central Asia. We want to create an agenda that is defined by a positive action and accomplishment, by collaboration and by cooperation. We would like to see the countries of Central Asia and in this instance, Uzbekistan, be capable of reaching their full potential as independent states for the well-being and benefit of their people. In regard to our agenda with the government, as I mentioned, our strategic dialogue and partnership is broad and covers a wide range of activities, both in terms of government-to-government activities but also people-to-people activities. I would say that we don’t have a new evaluation of the relationship but I believe we have an increasing recognition that, as our strategic partnership unfolds, it will encompass more and more activities and will create more opportunities for engagement between our two countries. For us, this is very exciting, because it means that Uzbekistan will be a dynamic and valuable partner.
Muhammadsharif Mamatkulov (Reuters): My name is Muhammadsharif Mamatkulov. I represent Reuters. Recently, Interim President Mirziyoyev proposed to the Senate to adopt an anticorruption law and as one of the very important priorities in the current legislative activities of Uzbekistan. In your opinion, will this move help to return funds to Uzbekistan that were temporarily frozen in regards to the scandal in the telecommunication sphere in Uzbekistan, in particular in regards to the TeliaSonera issue?
Under Secretary Shannon: First of all, let me say that the focus on anticorruption by the interim president is welcome. It is an important step that will enhance Uzbekistan’s attractiveness as an economic and commercial partner. In regard to the question regarding return of assets – the answer is I don’t know. My understanding is that the case you referred to is still an active case and therefore not one that I can discuss in any detail but I can tell you that we will continue to work with the Government of Uzbekistan in all issues related to fighting corruption.
Aleksey Volosevich (Asiaterra.info): Asiaterra.info is an independent website and I am Aleksey Volosevich. In Uzbekistan, there are many political prisoners. In your talks with President Mirziyoyev, have you talked about this and have you talked about the release of such political prisoners? Did he pledge to release them?
Under Secretary Shannon: First, we want to recognize the release of, how many now?
Ambassador Spratlen: There are three altogether.
Under Secretary Shannon: First, we would like to recognize the release of three such prisoners recently. We considered this to be an important gesture by the Government of Uzbekistan.
Ambassador Spratlen: May I just clarify that there are two recent ones: it is Razzokov and Kamilova, and Mr. Murod Juraev from last year.
Under Secretary Shannon: Yes. That’s right. Human rights issues are always a part of our agenda with Uzbekistan but what has become increasingly clear, as we engage with the Government of Uzbekistan, is that we are finding common ground in our discussion and engagement and believe we are capable of fashioning engagement around issues like human rights, democracy and civil society, defined not by disagreement but by common purpose.
Zamira Azizkhanova (Jahon News Agency): As you know, Uzbekistan is preparing for the presidential election on 4th of December. In your opinion, do the preparations correspond to the universal democratic parameters? As we know, all four political parties are taking part in the campaign and the election…
Under Secretary Shannon: First of all, I would say that the decision by the Government of Uzbekistan to invite the OSCE to send observers for this election is a very positive sign. It shows confidence on the part of the Government of Uzbekistan and willingness to engage with an organization that is well-known for its capabilities in election monitoring. Given the work that OSCE is doing, it would be inappropriate for me to comment before it has made its determinations, but we are looking forward to the elections as another important step in Uzbekistan’s democratic development.
Yuriy Chernogayev (Anhor.uz): One year ago, State Secretary Kerry announced a project, CASA-1000, a project for power grid in Central Asia. All Central Asian countries were very enthusiastic about this, but if we look now, CASA-1000 remains in words only. Is this a testament that diplomats only talk and no actions are undertaken?
Under Secretary Shannon: I am going to ask Mr. Rosenblum to respond to that.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Rosenblum: Thank you for asking about CASA-1000. Actually, when it was spoken about during Secretary Kerry’s visit, he wasn’t really announcing it but just talking about it because it was the countries of the region that themselves announced it earlier. As you know, it is a very complex project involving four countries and many international institutions who are providing financing. It is one of these projects that is very beneficial to the countries involved, but it is very complicated to implement. Last May, I was glad to be able to participate in a launch ceremony that was hosted by President Rahmon of Tajikistan in Dushanbe, where the four countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan announced their intention to begin implementation. Right now, the countries are in the process of soliciting bidders, companies to do the construction work. So, that’s the phase that it’s in right now, it’s in the solicitation phase of finding the private firms that would actually do the work. So, last thing I would say is that the progress has been slow because it is such a complicated project, but even though it may not be visible at the higher levels, I can assure you that there is a lot of work going on at the working level to make this a reality.
Muhammadsharif Mamatkulov (Reuters): As far as we know, during the time of President Karimov, during his meetings with Western officials, he would try to make two main messages to his interlocutors. The first one is about the decision by the U.S. to leave Afghanistan, that it was a cause for a concern, that it was premature to leave, and related concerns. The second concern was regarding the water problems in Central Asia. He would cite, for example, the reconstruction of the Rogun Dam in Tajikistan and the dam in Kyrgyzstan. Did you hear such concerns in your meeting with the current Interim President Mirziyoyev?
Under Secretary Shannon: First, we are not leaving Afghanistan. President Obama has committed significant troop levels and our participation in the Brussels Conference showed clearly that we are prepared to continue to help fund the Afghan Government and development assistance programs in Afghanistan. But in our conversations with the interim president and with the foreign minister, we did discuss Afghanistan because it’s obviously an area of joint concern and we are both committed to the security and well-being of Afghanistan. And broadly, through the discussions around C5+1 platform, we are able to talk about a variety of issues related to the region. With the foreign minister, we did discuss water management issues, with the foreign minister explaining some thoughts that Uzbekistan has and we were able to share with him our own experience with water management both with our northern neighbor Canada and our southern neighbor Mexico.