Interview
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
June 19, 2010


AP: What is your opinion of the Kyrgyzstan government’s handling of the ethnic clashes?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I think it’s important now for the Interim Government to take immediate steps to first stop the violence that has occurred, and then to launch an investigation into causes of the violence. I think the violence took many of them by surprise and in their conversations with me this morning they told me that they were not responsible for the violence that took place and that it was in fact supporters of former President Bakiyev and some of what they called the narco-mafia who are here who were responsible for the violence. But nonetheless, as I said, I think it’s very important now for them to do everything they can to restore control and security, particularly in these ethnic Uzbek enclaves so that the delivery of humanitarian assistance can take place and those people can feel more assured.

AP: Does the way they have handled it dent their credibility in the eyes of the United States?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Not at all. They’ve made sincere efforts to do what they can. I think everybody recognizes they have some capacity challenges. Again, they’ve made a good faith effort but it’s very important that they assert control now to establish security.

AP: Do you think that the 27th of June referendum on the new constitution should go ahead, bearing in mind that many of the displaced Uzbeks won’t be able to take part?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: We really think this is a decision for the Kyrgyz Interim Government to make. Our view is that they should uphold their obligations to restore democracy as quickly as possible, and to ensure reconciliation between the communities, particularly the ethnic Uzbek and the Kyrgyz communities here.

AP: How can they be reconciled because clearly this is a long going conflict, and we have a potential referendum coming that really could spark more violence? How can that be ensured?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: There are a lot of ways they can do it. One helpful measure, I think, was Ms. Otunbayeva’s travel to Osh yesterday in which she attempted to meet with some of the ethnic Uzbek leaders but was unable to do so. There’s still a lot of tension down there and many of the Uzbeks are either unwilling or unable to move out of their enclaves and there’s still something of a standoff between them and some of the Kyrgyz communities down there. It’s still a very tense and volatile environment.

AP: How does the situation now affect say the future of the Manas Transit Center here for the United States? What about --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: So far it hasn’t had any impact at all. The transit center continues to operate normally and continues to be a very important part of our overall effort in Afghanistan since most of our troops transit in and out of there on their way to Afghanistan.

AP: We’re looking at unrest again. Clearly this is not a stable, particularly stable place at the moment.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, I don’t want to engage in hypotheticals about what might happen in the future. For the moment, things are stable. Of course they have very strong force protection measures in place around Manas to ensure that they wouldn’t be affected by any violence, but we’ll follow it very closely.

AP: Would the U.S. consider contributing, if it came to it, to a part of a peacekeeping force, an international peacekeeping force if it came to that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: So far the Interim Government hasn’t requested any kind of international peacekeeping force of any kind. That’s still a hypothetical question. Again, it’s primarily their responsibility to assert control over the security situation, and if they don’t believe they’re able to do that, then I think they should request international assistance. But so far they haven’t done so.

AP: You said there should be an investigation into how these events occurred. Are you under the impression, or does the U.S. believe that there were outside actors involved in this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: If you mean outside countries involved, no. We don’t really have any independent information of our own about what happened, but again, judging from what I was told this morning, the interim government believes that supporters of former President Bakiyev, from within the country, were primarily responsible for this, perhaps working on coordination with some criminal elements in the southern part of this country. Certainly they have every interest in trying to, as you say, undermine the referendum and undermine the legitimacy of the current government.

AP: How do you measure the aid effort so far? [Inaudible]

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: First of all let me say that the United States has pledged $32 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help the government of Kyrgyzstan to cope with this terrible crisis. That’s over and above our already large bilateral assistance program.

The main challenge now is access to these communities down in the south. Again, there are still a lot of security problems there. And in the ethnic Uzbek areas, many of those areas are still barricaded, and in some cases we’ve heard reports that some of the ethnic Kyrgyz have stopped food shipments from going into the ethnic Uzbek areas. To be clear, that’s not government people who have stopped that, but just local, undetermined elements, non-governmental elements who have stopped those shipments. So this access is a very serious issue. The ICRC has had some success in delivering food, but I think they also believe that there are significant challenges that remain.

AP: Do you think there will be much response to the UN’s call for [inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I do. There’s quite a universal and good understanding of the many challenges that Kyrgyzstan faces right now. As I indicated, the United States already has been generous in providing support and I believe that the international community will respond generously.

AP: On credibility of the government now. It mentioned the [inaudible] as quick as possible to respond to what’s happened. Does that mean it’s lost credibility now to take the country forward? Has what was potentially a country moving towards democracy gone the other way and now we’re looking at a failed state?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No, I wouldn’t say we’re looking at a failed state. Obviously they’re making every effort to try to establish their legitimacy. That’s the principle purpose of the referendum, is to first make a judgment about this draft constitution, but also to approve the interim presidency of Ms. Otunbayeva. I believe they’re making good faith efforts to assert control and to do everything they can with respect to reconciliation and so forth.

But again, I think they face enormous challenges that should not be underestimated. They have the security challenge that I talked about. They have 300,000 internally displaced people inside Kyrgyzstan in addition to the 100,000 plus refugees who have gone over to Uzbekistan. They’ve got clearly armed elements associated with President Bakiyev who are still armed and on the loose in the south. So there are a number of different issues that they have to cope with right now. It’s no secret that they came into office somewhat by surprise and so they’re still kind of pulling themselves together to cope with all these challenges.

But it’s incumbent, I think, on the international community to help them to meet these challenges.

AP: Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you so much.

[This is a mobile copy of Interview With AP]