In an exclusive interview with BBC’s Uzbek Service, U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Hoagland said that the presidential elections on March 29 are Uzbekistan’s internal affair. According to Mr. Hoagland, the elections in Uzbekistan may not meet the U.S. and European standards, but Washington will continue the dialogue with the Uzbek government.
In an interview at the U.S. Embassy in London, the high-ranking diplomat of the United States stated that security cooperation with Uzbekistan and other countries of the region, including the exchange of intelligence information, corresponds to the national interests of all sides.
Richard Hoagland: As you know, we recently held a global summit in Washington dedicated to the fight against violent extremism. It was also attended by officials and representatives of the law-enforcement agencies of several countries of Central Asia. It is noteworthy, that the countries of the region want to cooperate closely in this area. Without going into details, I can say that with each country we try to exchange information on different levels because it corresponds to the national interests of everyone—interests of the Central Asian countries as well as those of the United States.
BBC: But relations between the United States and the Central Asian countries are more complex. The region’s authoritarian presidents do not trust American values, such as democracy and freedom of speech. Their security services are known for committing torture. In this regard, how difficult is it to cooperate in the areas such as the exchange of intelligence information?
Richard Hoagland: Let me answer this question in a broader sense. Indeed, the various levels of authoritarianism of governments in the region are an obstacle for us to establishing full relations. But at the same time, it is important that we have a relationship with each one of them. We would like to see balanced relations in all areas, be it in security or in the field of human development, that also includes economic or human rights. We are not shy about discussing the issue of human rights. A wide spectrum of active talks, in turn, will lead to a wider dialogue on human rights.
BBC: On March 29, Uzbekistan will hold presidential elections. No one doubts that incumbent President Islam Karimov will be elected for another term. To what extent do the lack of competition in the elections and the poor state of democracy in the country affect the Uzbek-American relations?
Richard Hoagland: Of course, we would like to see in all countries in the world hold competitive, open, free, and fair elections. However, elections in an individual country are the state’s internal affair. We will work with the elected governments of all countries around the world. Or those elected one way or another (laughs). Yes, the election will be held in Uzbekistan. It may not meet the standards of the U.S. or the European Union. Nevertheless, a dialogue between governments is important.
BBC: Human rights groups say that the United States of America does not criticize enough Uzbekistan’s human rights situation. How do you respond?
Richard Hoagland: You know, I don’t agree with that. Of course, some people always want us to make stronger statements in this regard. But we, as I said, are not avoiding discussions on the issue of human rights. And we believe that if these dialogues are carried out through diplomatic channels, they will be most efficient.
BBC: As you know, there are thousands of political prisoners in Uzbek prisons. Some of them, for example, former MP Murod Juraev and Samandar Kukanov, have been in prison for 20 years. Can the United States undertake more to help release these prisoners?
Richard Hoagland: I repeat: we are not avoiding diplomatic discussion of these issues. Whatever the issue, it is always on the agenda of our ongoing dialogue. I don’t want to speculate on the question of whether we can do more. However, we are engaging with Uzbekistan on this issue. As you know, recently one journalist was released from prison. We are pleased with that. We are getting more reports about a number of additional inmates released. However, we do not have confirmation yet. I can say that, in this regard, long dialogues from time to time, may bring results. Indeed, this area still requires a lot of work to be done, but we can see the results as well.
BBC: Recently, it was announced that the United States of America supplied to Uzbekistan hundreds of advanced military equipment and weapons [sic]. Human rights activists express concern that this military equipment can be used against peaceful citizens who are discontent with the government. Have you obtained a guarantee from the Uzbek government that the equipment will not be used against its own citizens?
Richard Hoagland: These are not offensive weapons. They are armored vehicles used for complex and dangerous anti-terrorist or anti-drug operations in order to protect the military and security forces. We have an agreement with the government of Uzbekistan covering the purposes of use of the equipment. In addition, the U.S. Congress is watching this matter very closely.
BBC: Are you concerned about Russia’s role in the region?
Richard Hoagland: I think the governments of the region watch very closely the situation in Ukraine. I am sure that in this regard there are internal discussions taking place. However, at present stage, I would say we are not deeply concerned [of Russia’s role] in Central Asia. At the same time, supporting independence and territorial integrity of the Central Asian countries is our fundamental policy.