Secretary Michael R. Pompeo and Uzbekistan Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov

FEBRUARY 3, 2020

MR KAIPBERGENOV:  (Via interpreter)  Good morning.  I give the floor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan Abdulaziz Khafizovich Kamilov.  Please.

FOREIGN MINISTER KAMILOV:  (Via interpreter)  Dear Mr. Secretary of State, representatives of the mass media, ladies and gentlemen, today we are receiving with official visit the Secretary of State of the United States, and we already held bilateral meeting talks.  And today after the press conference, we will be joined by the colleagues from Central Asian – the foreign ministers of Central Asia, and we are going to hold a meeting in the C5+1 format, the United States plus Central Asian countries.

Dear ladies and gentlemen, I am sincerely glad to meet with you to share the results of our talks with the Secretary of State Pompeo.  We held fairly productive talks and discussed the most important issues of bilateral cooperation and noted the very high-level dynamics of development of U.S.-Uzbek relationship.

Today, between our countries, we have a comprehensive agenda of bilateral contacts as a quite systematic and regular nature.  This is the result of joint efforts, the personal attention of the heads of two countries, as well as a recognition by our U.S. partners of the reforms that are being carried out by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Mr. Mirziyoyev, as well large-scale reforms in all spheres of the life of society.  A separate attention is given to the implementation of arrangements achieved during the official visit of president of Uzbekistan to Washington, D.C., in May of 2018.

We have confirmed the bilateral commitment to intensification of efforts to fill with another significance the agenda with a concrete content, and we talked about the development of a trade investment scientific technological development and cooperation in education, and the Uzbek side expressed a readiness to further create favorable conditions for U.S. business circles and encourage implementation of joint investment projects.

We have noted the increasing level of understanding of human dimension area.  The Washington recognized the achieved significant progress in the past three years in the area of ensuring human rights, religious freedom, liquidation of forced labor and child labor, and the creation of the conditions for freedom of speech.

We have agreed and we recognize with the Secretary of State that despite all the high level of progress there are issues on which we are going to continue work together and find solutions in order to fully remove and remove from the bilateral agenda the issues that were disagreement issues that were on the agenda before.  The Uzbek side noted about irreversibility of fundamental changes in all (inaudible) sectors of Uzbekistan.

We have noted the similar approach in regional security.  We are for sustainability and prosperity in Central Asian region.  The joint efforts includes the diplomatic platform C5+1.

Upon the completion of this press conference, as I noted, we are going to join our colleagues from other countries of Central Asia who will come – who came to Tashkent for another meeting on ministerial level of U.S. and Central Asia.

We also discussed about the prevention of modern threats and challenges of promotion of peace in Afghanistan.  We agreed to intensify the joint work on assistance to Afghanistan and including this country to trade and investment that transport the communication of Central Asia.  I can assure you that cooperation between two countries is on the peak of its development.  Our relationship are very gradual and stable and predictable.

In conclusion, I would like to say that our further efforts will be aimed at finding mutually beneficial areas of strategic partnership.  Thank you very much for your attention.

MR KAIPBERGENOV:  Please, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Good morning, and thank you, Foreign Minister Kamilov, for hosting me and our delegation.  It’s an exciting time to be here in Uzbekistan.  Our two countries have a wonderful, rapidly growing partnership, thanks in large part to the leadership of President Mirziyoyev.  I know President Trump enjoyed hosting him at the White House back in 2018, the first visit by an Uzbek leader since 2002.  That visit launched a new era of strategic partnership between the United States and Uzbekistan.

Based on my conversations with Foreign Minister Kamilov today, I am confident that our ties will continue to grow.  Foreign Minister Kamilov and I started off by talking about Uzbekistan’s reform agenda, which has already started to generate new foreign investments and jobs.  We discussed ways, too, to further improve the business climate, strengthen the rule of law, and provide sustainable economic opportunities for all citizens all across Uzbekistan.  We want private investment, American private investment sector, to flow between our two nations.  There’s no better path to sustainable growth to foster investments than to create jobs and prosperity.

The United States Government is also doing its part helping Uzbekistan’s reform path continue.  In 2019, we committed nearly $100 million to bolster the rule of law, education, English language training, support for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and other forms of assistance.  The Treasury Department will soon provide technical assistance on key financial sector and tax policy reforms.

And I am pleased to announce today that we are committing, pending congressional approval, $1 million of technical assistance to help Uzbekistan develop its capital markets in addition to other efforts to promote financial reforms.

We do all of this because America is a true partner with our friends here in Uzbekistan.

We also had the opportunity to discuss security cooperation.  I thanked my counterparts for their ongoing efforts to support peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.  In this regard, I am pleased to announce the United States will provide a million dollars of assistance to increase trade and connectivity between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.  Stronger ties between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan will support peace and prosperity, not only here and in Afghanistan but for all of South-Central Asia, Central Asia, and beyond.

And Uzbekistan also deserves praise for its progress on human rights issues.  It is expanding space for civil society, addressing forced labor issues, and loosening restrictions on the media, just to name a few.  We look forward to further progress in these areas and others, especially in aggressively investigating and prosecuting human trafficking.

And on a subject of great importance to me personally, we are supportive of Uzbekistan’s progress on religious freedom.  That includes the government’s recent registration of several minority faith churches.  We look forward to seeing soon the registration of other churches that have applied as well.  Where religious freedom is protected, peace and prosperity flourish.

The foreign minister and I, I think, are both looking forward to our meeting later today with our counterparts in the C5+1 format, especially since the Trump administration is preparing to release its new Central Asia Strategy.  It reinforces our commitment to a sovereign, stable, and prosperous Central Asia that is free to pursue its interests on its own terms with partners of its choosing.

This C5+1 meeting is our second such meeting in just over six months.  This grouping is proving to be an increasingly effective way for Central Asian countries to coordinate to fight terrorism and grow regional economic and energy ties among other issues.  Much of our progress has come thanks to President Mirziyoyev’s good neighbor policy.

And as I did in Kazakhstan yesterday, in my private meetings today I plan to discuss at that meeting the Chinese Communist Party’s repression of Uighur Muslims, Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang.

Thanks again, Mr. Foreign Minister and to your president, for hosting me on this important visit.

MR KAIPBERGENOV:  (Via interpreter)  Thank you.  Dear colleagues, as you know, we have very packed agenda schedule.  That’s why we agreed that there will be only two questions from each side.  I’d like to give first opportunity for Uzbek journalist Omonilla Fayziev of Khalq Sozi newspaper.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter)  Good morning.  My question is to Minister Abdulaziz Khafizovich.  What do you think the new era of U.S.-Uzbek strategic partnership and what the prospective directions could further strengthen the bilateral relations?  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER KAMILOV:  (Via interpreter) The question is a really important and serious one.  Naturally, it comes from the fact that we have announced a new era of strategic partnership between our countries, and the issue what is the essence of this era is quite natural.

First of all, this is the new quality of our relationship which is relying on a very solid basis.  First of all, these are the economic political reforms that are being carried out in Uzbekistan.

Secondly, it’s clearly set the priorities of our foreign policy the important one which is our regional policy, the establishing the good neighborly relationship, as well as strengthening the mutual trust, mutual respect with our direct neighbors, our policy in terms of Afghanistan and ensuring stability and peace in this country.

And to get today with the Secretary of State we have stated that in our political agenda we don’t have some really big problems or issues.  That’s why solving our cooperation and the current issues we would likfe to focus on our economic, trade and investment, and technological cooperation, a cooperation in the area of cultural humanitarian area, especially in the area of education.

And naturally, one of the important areas is the coordination of our joint activities in the international arena, first of all in international organizations, organizations of United Nations, OSCE, and other international multilateral institutions.

In short, the foreign policy which is being carried out by Uzbekistan is supported by the U.S., and one of the important proof of that is that today after our meeting we are going to hold in the meeting in the format C5+1 the countries of the region and the United States.  Thus, our new era of strategic partnership realize on a new reach and synchronized, comprehensive agenda and which covers practically all areas of our interaction.

Thank you.

MS ORTAGUS:  Matt Lee, Associated Press.

QUESTION:  Good morning.  Thank you.  Mr. Secretary, congratulations to the Chiefs.


QUESTION:  Even if they are from Missouri and not Kansas.  (Laughter.)

Secondly, since the beginning of this trip, and in fact for months, in fact since you’ve been Secretary, you have spoken at great length about the threats that you see, concerns about Chinese investment, Chinese influence, particularly 5G within Huawei and the 5G networks.  And I am wondering:  Is there a particular concern in Central Asia about that given their proximity to China and the fact that they are still developing and in need of investment in infrastructure?  Do you plan to raise this with the C5 other than the Xinjiang situation, and what would you like to see them do about it?

And for Mr. Foreign Minister, do you share concerns about the potential threat from Chinese investment and influence?

Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thanks, Matt.  Whenever we speak to countries around the world, we want to make sure that we’re doing what the people of those countries want.  We know that Uzbeki – Uzbekistan’s people want a good, balanced relationship.  They have long borders.  They sit in a region where China and Russia are both present.

But what we want them to do and what America is here to do is to support their capacity to make good decisions, to have transparent rule of law, investments be present.  We want American companies to have opportunities to continue to create wealth, opportunity, jobs for people here in Uzbekistan.  We want their political reforms to support that as well so that they can have the independence and sovereignty that they want so that they’re doing what the people of this country want and not what any other nation might want.

So our task is very clear:  to be here as a great bilateral partner; to work both bilaterally and multilaterally to deliver to them the processes and reforms here that this president has made tremendous progress on; and to help them get to a place where there is real opportunities for them to grow and create wealth for their people, for them to come to America and invest and be part of our economy as well.  We are convinced when American companies come to places like Uzbekistan, we show up, we create jobs for local people, we obey the local rules, we don’t pollute their neighborhood, we’re good citizens, we’re good neighbors.

American companies and American investments are the response to this country’s demand for independence and sovereignty, and so we’ll do that.  We remind them constantly that when other nations come to participate in these countries, if they’ll participate by those same set of rules of transparency and openness, doing real market transactions not state-sponsored, politically driven transactions, we welcome that competition anywhere in the world.  And we’re confident even from our discussions today.  I leave here more confident that our bilateral relationship will continue to grow because of the good things that happen when our two countries work closely together.

FOREIGN MINISTER KAMILOV:  (Via interpreter)  Responding to your question, in the regional aspect I’d like to note that, first of all, our regional policy and relationship with closest and other neighbors and also in general our international policy is – relies on establishing a good neighborly relations and cooperation in this region.  This is the first.

And second, we will never undertake any actions to the damage and to interests of Uzbekistan itself.

And thirdly, that this issue is related to the policy of various countries, large and small, serious regional players.  And in this regard, I’d like to once again note that we want to see Central Asia as a region of stable development, prosperity, and cooperation, and we would really not like to feel on ourselves unfavorable political consequences in relation to some competition in our region between large powers.

Thank you.

MR KAIPBERGENOV:  (Via interpreter)  I’d like to give the floor to Alisher Ruziohunov, of very famous nongovernmental website.

QUESTION:  My question is to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.  Approximately for the 20 years the conflict is continuing in Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan is participating active part in endeavors to bring peace.  And in order to restore stability, Uzbekistan is making its contribution in this regard.  What’s the view of United States to the actions of Uzbekistan and the cooperation between U.S. and Uzbekistan was very fruitful in terms of bringing peace in Afghanistan, and what will be the next steps of cooperation in order to bring peace in Afghanistan?

Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you.  I really appreciate that question.  It’s a good question.

Uzbekistan has been a fantastic partner.  Their special envoy and Ambassador Khalilzad have worked closely together.  Not too long ago, there was a meeting held here in Tashkent talking about Afghanistan, how we reduce violence, how we create peace and reconciliation.  Our project that we are leading there continues, we hope will come to fruition.

But wholly apart from the peace and reconciliation conversations and the reduction of violence, the work we’re doing with the Taliban and with the Government of National Unity that Uzbekistan has been incredibly supportive of, the things that are being done along the relationship between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan matter an awful lot as well – commercial ties, security ties, those things that tie Afghanistan – the foreign minister just spoke about an integrated Central Asia.  Those things that tie Afghanistan together with Central Asia from a security perspective, from an economic perspective, ultimately from a political perspective, will deliver that kind of stability that you suggest we’re achieving or we’re working to achieve.  It’s an important objective.

Your point about 20 years is precisely right.  President Trump has made no equivocation about our desire to reduce the American presence in Afghanistan.  We’re aiming to do that.  We’re working diligently to do that in a way that delivers on peace and reconciliation, lowers the American presence and burden associated with that, and continues to work to deliver a counterterrorism profile that not only protects America but nations in this region as well.  And I can’t say enough good about what Uzbekistan has done to support the United States’ and NATO’s efforts in this regard.  So thanks for the question.

MS ORTAGUS:  Christina Ruffini, CBS News.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Good morning, gentlemen.  My question is also about Afghanistan.

Mr. Foreign Minister, your country has consistently offered to play a larger role in those negotiations, and I am wondering if you approve of the way the U.S. is approaching those negotiations, if you think they’re moving in the right or wrong direction.

And Mr. Secretary, Ambassador Khalilzad told the Afghan president this week that he’s not seen significant progress.  Do you still believe peace is possible and if the Taliban will ever agree to a ceasefire?

And if I may, quickly on another topic, are there any current plans to organize any more flights out of – of Americans out of affected areas of China that are impacted by the coronavirus?

Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Go ahead, Mr. Foreign Minister.

FOREIGN MINISTER KAMILOV:  (Via interpreter)  First of all, we are actively engaged in Afghan process, the process of reconciliation, peaceful reconciliation, because it touches on our lives and the national interest and interest of security of our state.  And this is first.

And second, Uzbekistan has already done a lot.  Today, I can say that it is part of all this process.

And third, what I wanted to say is we highly value the U.S. policy in Afghanistan because, despite all the various comments, the U.S. presence during many years is a stabilizing factor of the situation and deters the push of terrorism and extremism and radicalization and many other factors such as drug trafficking and crime and other serious challenges and threats.

We support the talks, the direct talks between U.S. and Taliban movement, because here we should come from the realities that have been established.  And this is indeed a force that you should count with and this is an important component inside of Afghan policy.  This is part of Afghan society.  We cannot ignore just like any other political religious regional leaders’ movements or parties.  It is impossible and it would be not correct.

In the case of signing of this agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban movement, we exchanged our views with the Secretary of State.  We would see this step as a indivisible part of the entire political process.  We cannot divide into two such as so-called separate movement with Taliban and the rest is independent talks.  This policy should have its continuity.

We do not have any ambitions to play some key role.  We just assess the situation, and at the same time we do not have some illusions that it will be possible to solve the Afghan problem with one push by just by signing agreement to put at table and to have agreement.  The war has been going on for 40 years.  The structure and the nature of the Afghan conflict has transformed, and it seems that there are a lot of involved sides from outside of Afghanistan which have absolutely different interests, and that’s why this process will take a very long time.  It will take some time, but nevertheless there is no other alternative.

And what is being done by U.S. is the right thing to do, and we will closely coordinate our efforts with the only purpose is to ensure regional security and make its mission, fulfill its mission in this peaceful process in Afghanistan.  This is the whole policy of Uzbekistan in terms of neighboring Afghanistan.

Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Your first question was – gets to the heart of it.  So we’re working on a peace and reconciliation plan, putting the commas in the right place, getting the sentences right.  In the end, all Afghans will have to resolve that they want peace and stability for their own country as well.  That’s certainly the Taliban, but it’s others, too.  We know that there remains a terror threat from others besides the Taliban.

We got close once before to having an agreement, a piece of paper that we mutually executed, and the Taliban weren’t able to demonstrate either their will or their capacity, or both, to deliver on a reduction in violence.  And so what we are demanding now is demonstrable evidence of their will and capacity to reduce violence, to take down the threat, so that the context of the inter-Afghan negotiations – which will indeed be that; these will be negotiations of, by, and among the Afghans to deliver peace and stability and regional security for themselves – will have a context, a less violent context as the backdrop for those conversations.  So we’re hopeful we can achieve that, but we’re not there yet, and work certainly remains.

Your second question was a technical one about flights in China.  Yes, we have a handful more flights that will be heading to China to bring Americans back home from Hubei province.  The exact timing of those we’re still coordinating with the Chinese Government, but we anticipate that they will happen in the next handful of days and we’ll return those American citizens.  We may well end up bringing some citizens back from other countries as well.  We’re working through the details on that.  We hope also to bring some medical supplies in the context of those aircraft traveling into the region.  We’re working closely and hand-in-hand with the Chinese Government to try and resolve what is now this global epidemiological challenge.

So we’ll have more details exactly on when those flights will depart and when they’ll return and how they’ll return here to the United States before too long.

MR KAIPBERGENOV:  (Via interpreter)  Thank you very much, Mr. Minister and Mr. Secretary.  Thank you, dear journalists.