State’s Biswal in Tashkent on Uzbekistan-U.S. Partnership

Remarks at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy

Thank you very much. Thank you Vice Rector Turdiev for your wonderful introduction. And I also want to acknowledge our excellent Ambassador George Krol who is here with us today for his service to our country and to the U.S. – Uzbek partnership.

Let me tell you it is indeed an honor for me to be here with you today at the very prestigious University of World Economy and Diplomacy. Senator Sodik Safaev told me that he at one point had also served as Rector of this university. And yesterday I also met with some alumni from this university who had participated in U.S. exchange programs. If those young people are any indication of the quality of the education and the thinking that is produced out of this university then let me just say that your future and Uzbekistan’s future is very bright indeed. Senator Safaev also told me that all of you would be asking very sharp questions and I should be forewarned. So I am prepared.

Well what I wanted to start with is a thought that really shapes my own thinking and, frankly, my government’s thinking in how we pursue foreign policy. It is a quote from the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy and he used it in describing our relationship with another country but it is applicable to our role here and around the world. And that is that U.S. foreign policy is not just government-to-government. It is people-to-people, citizen-to-citizen and friend-to-friend. So wherever I go I try to meet with young people –students, entrepreneurs, and activists—because I find that in many ways they are the true barometer of the relationship and the direction of the country. So it is particularly important that I have an opportunity today to be able to engage with you, to share my thoughts, but more importantly, to also hear from you.

You know, I was just in Kathmandu Nepal as part of a regional summit for South Asia. And I had a chance to meet with some youth there. After over a decade of conflict, the government of Nepal is working hard to create a constitution and establish a durable government and strengthen its democracy. But it is in a race against time because its young people are hungry for opportunity. They are hungry to grow and reach new heights in their own lives and so Nepal is racing to catch up for the decades that it lost.

And here in Uzbekistan, a country which has long been a leader in Central Asia, it sits as the center of the Old Silk Road. The cities of Uzbekistan flourished as bastions of Islamic thought, of learning, and of science. They produced some of history’s most important scholars and literary figures, and are making enormous contributions to science, art, literature, and culture in the region and across the globe. With its abundant natural resources and growing human capital, and as the only Central Asian country that borders on all the others as well as Afghanistan, Uzbekistan’s place in the region and on the global stage remains just as critical today as it was in the past.

Over the course of the last two days, I have met with senior officials from your government, members of civil society, members of your parliament, and I have had the opportunity to assure them that the U.S. partnership and commitment to Uzbekistan is an enduring one. And we continue to support an active role for Uzbekistan in this region and beyond. We want this because a strong, independent, and vibrant Uzbekistan will not only strengthen the security and prosperity of the Uzbek people, but also enhance the security and prosperity of the American people.

So, as the United States may feel sometimes that it is distant geographically, I want to assure you that our partnership brings us closer every day. And I’m committed to finding even more areas of shared interest between our two countries and between our two people where we can jointly develop an ambitious agenda that can seize upon the opportunities of the 21st century and to address some of its challenges.

In recent months, there have been a number of developments both here in this region and also in the far corners of the world that have had a real impact on our own understanding of our politics, economics, and security in this region and around the world. Whether it is the threat of diseases like Ebola which can ravage West African nations, and are forcing us to rethink how we think about global health security, or the divisive and destructive ideology and brutal violence perpetrated by extremist groups like ISIL and Al Qaeda. There is a natural temptation in the face of these kinds of threats for people and governments to build walls to keep out the negative influences. But, as we were reminded just last month as the world marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, walls do not work – they do not withstand the test of time or the pressures of today’s globalized world.

With people, universities, businesses, economies, and governments more linked with one another than at any point in human history, the world can no longer be divided into blocs or spheres of influence, and countries can no longer succeed in isolation. Our prosperity, our security are so intertwined that to build obstacles to create barriers against the movement of people, of goods, of energy, of supplies, or even of ideas – to create barriers will only shut out opportunity. And in today’s globalized world, our people, our countries, everywhere will succeed based on their ability to open doors and establish connections, a diverse array of connections that move in every direction. A more connected and interdependent world is also a more secure and prosperous one, and therefore in the fundamental interest of us all.

This was the overwhelming message I heard from South Asian leaders during a meeting of the SAARC heads of state. SAARC is the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. And yet for many decades South Asian nations have long been inhibited in their ability to create effective trade and transit links with each other by political and security concerns. But now they are increasingly recognizing that to be able to be globally competitive, they need to overcome those barriers and create a more integrated, more connected region, and one that can connect to a more integrated Asia.

It is this principle that underpins America’s rebalance to Asia, including our engagement in Central and South Asia. We believe that America’s security and prosperity are increasingly linked to the emerging economies of Asia, and that we can advance our collective security and shared prosperity by working together to address common challenges, and in so doing create greater opportunity for all of our people. Uzbekistan’s strong political and economic relationships within the region and to the rest of Asia, China, Japan and Korea are already putting this concept into practice.

And this is why the United States has been such a champion of expanding connectivity among the growing economies of Central Asia and connecting them to South Asia. There are many barriers to regional cooperation, but we know that increased trade and transportation linkages, energy linkages, people-to-people and business-to-business linkages across this region will pay real benefits in the long term for both the economic prosperity and political stability of the region.

As a land-locked country at the heart of Asia – a region with a rich history as the crossroads of civilizations – Uzbekistan stands to gain much from a more integrated region and already is playing a key role in helping bring that about by building the infrastructure and the architecture of that more connected future.

Afghanistan is a prime example of Uzbekistan’s growing regional engagement and leadership. Last summer, millions of Afghans went to the polls to vote for their new president and to choose the direction of their country’s future. These elections resulted in the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history, and opened the path to greater development, prosperity, and stability. Uzbekistan has provided significant support for Afghanistan’s future, providing electrical power that keeps the lights on in Kabul, building many kilometers of railway lines, and expanding the volume of trade with its southern neighbor. We deeply commend and appreciate Uzbekistan’s commitment in this arena. Efforts to build bridges and not walls will help foster the economic development and stability that Afghanistan and the region needs.

And now the region is looking to reestablish those ancient trade routes into a modern network of trade and transit. We see efforts to support a new silk road that connects Central Asia into South Asia and then beyond to the Indo-Pacific economic corridor to Myanmar and Southeast Asia. And we see efforts to connect west through the Lapis Lazuli corridor, which brings connectivity through Turkmenistan into Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey.

And as I am sure you are following closely, the P5+1 talks with Iran. If Iran can conclude the difficult negotiations and halt its nuclear weapons program, then still more pathways could open up. And Central Asia, which has for too long been cut off by geography and politics, could find itself once again the heart and hub of Asia.

Even more than natural resources or geographic location, Uzbekistan’s greatest strength and advantage is in you – its human capital, its talent base. Our common recognition of the importance of investing in people and the growth of our people-to-people ties are two of the essential ingredients in the progress that we’ve seen in our bilateral partnership. And increasingly the language of commerce around the world is English. Your President underscored this with his December 2012 announcement that the citizens of Uzbekistan should learn the English language from the very first days that they enter school. The United States directly supports president Karimov’s goal by providing American experts in the field of teaching English and a wide range of English-language resources for Uzbekistan, as well as supporting several exchange program opportunities for students and for professionals.

But the point I underscored at the SAARC summit in Kathmandu was that enduring peace and prosperity will take more than just economic connectivity. It will require transparent, accountable governance, environmentally sustainable growth strategies, and inclusive political and economic systems. That is why the United States works with Uzbekistan and with the countries of the region to facilitate the development of good governance, the rule of law, transparency, and respect for rights. These are the foundations of the long-term political, economic, and social stability that we all seek.

Ultimately every country follows its own path, makes its own choices and pursues its own interests. Our recognition of the sovereignty, the independence and the integrity of Uzbekistan is at the heart of our relationship. The United States has long-term and enduring interest in ensuring stability, prosperity and security with Uzbekistan and across the region. We were one of the first nations to recognize the independence of Uzbekistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and we remain steadfast in our partnership with the people and most of all with, you, the future of Uzbekistan.

And now I would like to hear from all of you. Your thoughts, your ideas, your perspectives, as well as your questions, your comments and your critiques so that I can leave here today having a better sense of how you see your future, how you see the relationship between our two countries, and what I can gain from you in understanding your priorities for yourself and for your country.

So, with that, I want to thank you so much for your attention. I want to thank the Vice-rector for giving me this opportunity and I would welcome any questions or comments that you might have. Thank you so much.

[Question and Answer Session at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy]

Question: First of all I would like to express my gratitude on behalf of the student body to the United States State Department and U.S. Embassy in Tashkent for coming to our university and speaking with us. And my question is as follows: As we all know, the problem of Afghanistan is impossible to solve only with military methods. Political settlement is very much a part of this case. What I would like to know is what actions are being taken by the United States side in order to initiate this process? Thank you.

Assistant Secretary Biswal: Thank you. That was an excellent question. What I would say is the actions that are being taken to create a durable, political solution are being taken by Afghan leaders and they are being taken by the Afghan people. Afghanistan turned out in record numbers to vote against the threat of violence and intimidation, against danger to their personal security we had more Afghans turn up to vote and more Afghan women turn up to vote. It was a determination that they were going to seize their country’s future. And the result of that election did not provide a clear-cut response, a clear victor. But rather than falling back into conflict, the political leadership took the courageous step of compromising and coming together and forming a unity government to take their country forward. And now you have a president Ashraf Ghani and a CEO Dr. Abdullah working together to create a cabinet. So, yes, there is fragility in that transition, but there is resolve. There is determination. The role of the United States, the role of the neighboring countries, the role of the international community is to provide the support, to provide the resources, and to provide the encouragement that is necessary to enable that fragility to turn into a more durable, more resilient political solution. I think we are seeing something quite remarkable happening in Afghanistan and I am hopeful.

Question: First of all, thank you just for sharing yourself with us today. We really appreciate that. Could you give us information about perspectives of development, regional trade relations along the New Silk Road as well as in the Indo-Pakistan economic corridor?

Assistant Secretary Biswal: Interestingly, about two years ago, three years ago, when we first really started talking about connectivity and New Silk Road we encountered a great deal of skepticism everywhere. That that was too hard. That the constraints were too big. That the security was too fragile to allow connectivity to happen. And yet I think what we have seen step-by-step, day-by-day, week-by-week, is a growing consensus that is emerging from this region. I hear it when I talk to senior leaders in government here in Uzbekistan and across the region. I hear it when I talk to young entrepreneurs. I hear it when I talk to civil society. The understanding that as Asia evolves into such a dynamic economic space the momentum around the world is on regional integration and regional connectivity. And this region, the countries of this region, cannot afford to be left out. The good thing is that we are building on ancient traditions. This was the most connected region on the planet. This is where all the trade routes traversed back and forth. This was what defined connectivity in the ancient days. And then political systems and geographic constraints and decades of conflicts and other dynamics disrupted those natural flows and yet what we are seeing now is a return to that realization, a return to those roots. The infrastructure that is being put in place by China, by Russia, by the countries of the region, by the international development banks and, yes, by the United States, is all focused on that realization that connecting to and through this region is important to all aspects of the neighborhood. The only point of difference that we would have is that we think connectivity in all directions is good. We welcome it, we encourage it, we support it. But we think that connectivity that precludes relationships and trade in certain directions and only in others is bad for the region, it’s bad for Uzbekistan, it’s bad for stability and security so we want to foster a much more interconnected region that trades north, south, east and west and we are seeing that happen. We are seeing through the rail links that connect Uzbekistan to Afghanistan. We are seeing the business-to-business ties as we saw with the delegation of Uzbek entrepreneurs in Termez and similar groupings and gatherings that are happening across the region. So I believe that it is happening and that it is the future, that is the future that is coming into the present.

Question: Thank you Ms. Biswal. Thank you for coming to our university. I found your speech very interesting and informative. My question is the following: Since 2009, bilateral political consultations [inaudible] of Uzbek-American cooperation are being held and how do you evaluate the results of this cooperation and what perspectives does this cooperation include?

Assistant Secretary Biswal: Thank you. It is a wonderful question. We were talking earlier today as we concluded our Annual Bilateral Consultations that we have come a long way from the first consultations in 2009. Ambassador Krol was there from the very first one and he could probably give you his reflection on the progress that he has seen. But we now have a full, almost a whole-of-government effort that brings together a team from the United States. We had a team of 22 members who came from Washington as well as a very strong team from the Embassy team here. We had seven U.S. government agencies that participated and we had probably a similar number of offices and bureaus within the Department of State that participated. And we had a similar number of counterparts on the Uzbek side. We discussed the economic partnership. What are some of the challenges in growing trade and investment and how can we work together to address the challenges? We came together determined to focus on solutions and not just on problems. So we talked about how we can deepen the economic partnership. We talked about the security relationship, which is a very important one. The United States has made a firm commitment to support Uzbekistan and enhance its capabilities to defend its sovereignty and independence. We had a very good discussion on the political dimension – how we can work together as governments as the broader aspects of our relationship, how we can work together to address shared challenges. Challenges like ISIL, which threaten both of our societies. Challenges like extremism or radicalization but also political challenges. Challenges like fostering stability and security in neighboring Afghanistan and how we can work together to bring that about. But we also have very robust conversations on very sensitive areas under the human dimension. We had a very frank or candid conversation on the basis of respect and trust about where we think things ought to be discussed and changes ought to be made in the areas of human rights, and religious freedom, and labor, on the areas of education and exchanges. It is a hallmark of our relationship between our two countries that we can have these conversations as we can talk about difficult and sensitive things and we can come to understandings about where changes can be made on our side as well as your side. That is the trademark of a true partnership where you can have convergences and divergences and have a way forward to bring yourselves together. So I think this has been extraordinary. I think that the spirit of cooperation on both sides has been extraordinary and I see that we will have increasing opportunity to grow closer together as we address all of the range of issues, but why don’t I turn to George to see if he wants to add on how he has seen this relationship evolve.

Ambassador Krol: Thank you Nisha. Thank you for this opportunity just to say as many of you have heard I will be concluding my assignment in Uzbekistan shortly and I will be Ambassador of the United States to your neighbor to the north, Kazakhstan. But I have been dealing with Uzbekistan and Central Asia for the last six years when I started as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asian Affairs in 2008 and when we began our dialogue, resuming our dialogue, with Uzbekistan in 2009 with the format of having bilateral consultations one year starting in Washington and another year in Tashkent and back and forth, I went to five of these discussions that we have every year. And I would say the first year there was only the Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan who came to Washington and we met with then-Ambassador Kamilov, now your foreign minister, with the leadership of the State Department in a very small room. And five years later we are here in Tashkent and we met our delegations in a room as big as this and it was filled with representatives. (I think Nisha you brought 22 people with you from Washington. And on the Uzbek side there were also more than 22 people.)

The issues for discussions just grow every year. I don’t know if we can do it in one day. We had to do it all in two days. That is another issue too. We have these discussions in two days whereas before we could do it in a matter of hours one day in Washington. So that shows you how much we have progress in our relationship. And again as Assistant Secretary Biswal has said we grow in all of the areas and the world is interconnected. Uzbekistan and the United States find ourselves partners everywhere in the world even though we are so distant from one another geographically. But in economics, in politics, in regional security, in dealing with the challenges of terrorism, unfortunately in extremism and narcotics trafficking it brings us together because we have these threats but also in the areas of science and technology and education it brings us together because education is not a universal and there is not one place that unites states where everything is known and understood. (inaudible) and so this is truly a reflection of a changing world and not just a changing relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan and I would have to give credit to my president, President Obama, and President Karimov. When they made the decision to establish and approve this mechanism to resume the full discussion, open and candid on all issues. So this is a tribute to our leadership, this is a tribute to our people, to our citizens and my colleagues (inaudible) and particularly Assistant Secretary Biswal who leads this effort now to expand and deepen this relationship and it has been an honor and a privilege for me to play a small part in promoting this and supporting this here at our Embassy in Tashkent. And I can assure you that my successor, Ambassador Spratlen, who is coming from neighboring Kyrgyzstan, is very excited to come here and to continue this process of deepening and widening our relationship. Thank you very much.

Question: I would like to ask Nisha about India, which is the main country in South Asia. As we all know the State Department sees South and Central Asia as a single region. This raises a question – what role does the United States give India in Central Asia?

Assistant Secretary Biswal: Thank you that is a wonderful question and one what we have been giving a good deal of thought to. In fact, Ambassador Krol and I had the opportunity to have tea with the new Indian Ambassador who just arrived in Tashkent a few weeks ago and we discussed this very issue because India is already but increasingly going to be an engine of economic growth in the region and the ability of India to expand its ties to this region is going to be very important. Not only for the important issues like energy which are so critical for India. India has a shortfall; I think India has over 400 million people have no access or inadequate access to electricity. They live off the grid. So India is very seized with energy but increasingly India is seeking to create ties and relationships in many different directions so for too long I believe geographic barriers and political barriers have constrained what it can do but there are new and important creative ways. For example I think educational ties between Uzbekistan and India. I think India is creating a knowledge economy and the extent to which Indian companies can invest in and work with Uzbekistan to create the talent base to develop a knowledge sector here that can feed into and connect to the Indian economy that there would be a tremendous source of opportunity for young people here. So I think there is a tremendous amount of untapped potential. Even if there are political barriers, I don’t think they will stay for too long. I think the world and every country in this region understands the economic imperative of connectivity. In fact there is a new phrase that has come into use in the last couple of years, rather than geopolitics the world is increasingly going to be shaped by geo-economics. We think that there is huge potential and I know my Indian counterparts feel the same so if there are ways that we can work together -India, Uzbekistan, the United States – to strengthen those opportunities then that is something we welcome and are willing to explore. Thank you.

Question: Thank you Ms. Biswal for your highly informative speech. It has been known the U.S. has recently offered a new strategy which is called New Silk Road which is intended for Central Asia. And we would like to know what the U.S. is doing or going to do in order to implement this new strategy or this new conception in this region nowadays.

Assistant Secretary Biswal: Thank you. It is a great question. We see four key areas where the U.S. can play a role. One is obviously in supporting the energy connectivity and so we look to initiatives like TAPI – the Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India gas pipeline. We see initiatives like TUTAP which would seek to create energy flows and we see initiatives like CASA as all being efforts to create an integrated energy market that connects South Asia and Central Asia. Then there is the trade and transit infrastructure – the roads, the rails that bring connectivity across this region. Billions of dollars have been invested in trying to build the hard infrastructure in Afghanistan than can connect into the infrastructure here in Uzbekistan and the other countries of the region. Then there is the customs, the harmonization of the trade barriers, the harmonization of customs rules, of regulations that create and ease of doing business in trade and transit and we are working through various regional programs that seek to create an ease of doing business that seek to create an investment climate that allows trade to happen more easily. And then perhaps the most important area is in the people-to-people to create the networks of people, of entrepreneurs, of businesses that can connect with each other and creating business conferences that bring Afghan entrepreneurs and Uzbek entrepreneurs together, or Pakistani traders with Central Asian markets. Ways to create more flows. We obviously are also investing in a lot of bilateral programs that are also coming at this so the regional connectivity is a combination of the programs that we are supporting that are regional in nature and then they are built on a platform of our bilateral relationships and our bilateral assistance programs in each of the countries in the region. And so we think that together, and then obviously very much supplemented and complemented by the efforts of other countries in the region, of the international banks, of other partners, it creates the kind of critical mass in investment that can create this new Silk Road into a reality of trade, of transit, of investment, of opportunity. Thank you.

Moderator: I wish Assistant Secretary Biswal and Ambassador Krol every success in their endeavors to strengthen the bilateral relations between our two countries. And I said earlier than we had two or three meetings with the Ambassador and during his service to another country he will still remember our country (inaudible) I should take this opportunity to say that we are very confident that the bilateral relations between the United States and Uzbekistan will further develop in the coming years.

Assistant Secretary Biswal: Thank you for being such a wonderful audience. When I look at all of you I see myself. I was born in a small town in India and I didn’t know where life would take me, but life is very interesting that way and today opportunities come at you in the most unexpected ways. So please seize the moment and seize the opportunities. This world is for you. Thank you so much.