Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
April 8, 2010

Al Jazeera Question: [Inaudible].

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We don’t really recognize governments, we recognize states. So we’re not really ever going to be at a decision point where we say we recognize this government but not, and so forth.

We already have begun talks with the provisional administration, but we remain in contact with all of the career bureaucrats that remain in place in the foreign ministry and other ministries.

Al Jazeera: You meant Russia didn’t have any qualms. They’ve already rather promptly recognized the new self-proclaimed interim leader. What was your response to that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: It’s up to Russia to determine what to do. As I say, we’ve already entered into some talks. Our Charge d’Affaires, our Acting Ambassador, met with Ms. Otunbayeva today for a meeting, I think it was a good beginning of a discussion, so we’re watching very closely the events there. I think our first interest is in seeing law and order reestablished, and then after that seeing the democratic process reestablished.

Al Jazeera: But you also heard the interim leader thanked Russia for its significant support. Do you feel that Russia had a hand in what happened in Kyrgyzstan in the last few days?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t really know if Russia had a hand or not. I think you’ll have to ask the Russians that.

Al Jazeera: This is being interpreted as a move by Moscow to reassert itself, a strategic move to reassert itself in what it considers its sphere of influence. Does that concern the State Department?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: You know, I don’t think we see it that way. President Obama and President Medvedev had a very good meeting today in Prague, and they discussed Kyrgyzstan as part of that meeting, and from what I understand they had a very strong convergence of views on that and the need, again, to restore order and stability in that country, and again to get the democratic process going.

I’m not of the same view that some people are that Russia is opposing our presence in Manas. The Russians have shared our interests in helping to stabilize Afghanistan and they know very well how important this is to our efforts to have our troops transit through Manas to get into Afghanistan.

Al Jazeera: It was striking, though, that in Prague, the ink not yet dry really on the new START treaty, and again, the new era of U.S.-Russian relations being hailed amidst all of this, a member of President Medvedev’s delegation told journalists that as far as he was concerned now the U.S. base at Manas should be shut down.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I haven’t heard that. All I heard was from our own staff who gave a press briefing after the meeting in which they reported that again, there was a convergence of views between our two presidents on Kyrgyzstan. I think I’ll leave it with those who were in that meeting.

Al Jazeera: Do you understand the hostility of those in the opposite movement, though, to the U.S. base at Manas?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I wouldn’t say there is total opposition. I think we’ve already had some contacts with some members of that opposition and they understand the importance of the base to our efforts and they understand that Kyrgyzstan definitely has a shared interest in the stabilization of Afghanistan. So this is something that we’re going to have to discuss with the provisional administration when the time comes. They have a lot of issues on their plate right now that they have to sort out, like restoring law and order. Obviously that’s going to be their first priority.

Al Jazeera: You are suggesting that --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: When the time comes I think --

Al Jazeera: -- it will be the new administration you're discussing these issues with. That suggests despite there not being any need for a full recognition you are basically planning, you're assuming that the interim government will be those whom you negotiate within the future.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well the Prime Minister has resigned, and I think from what we understand, the existing ministers are no longer in office.

Al Jazeera: But the President says he’s still in charge.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: But the President is still, as you say, asserting control. That is obviously very important and needs to be taken seriously so it’s important I think for the opposition to meet with the President and to resolve their differences peacefully.

Al Jazeera: What effect will the closing of the base have on Mr. Obama’s plans to reinforce troops in Afghanistan? Will that put the timetable back somewhat?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t want to speculate on the closing of the air base. We hope that’s not going to happen. As I say, it’s an important vehicle and an important transit center for the transit of our troops into Afghanistan. There probably are other options, but this is the best option right now. If we can, we’d like to keep it. Again, we think this is something that benefits not only the coalition in Afghanistan and the stability of Afghanistan but also benefits Kyrgyzstan which has a clear interest in stabilizing Afghanistan.