Interview
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
October 13, 2010


AFP: To begin with, about Kyrgyzstan. Of course I saw there have been statements from the U.S. earlier about saluting it as a democratic election. I just wanted to see how you saw things right now. Lots of the attention right now is on the Ata-Jurt party and how well they’ve apparently done in the election. How do you see things right now? There’s been some talk, again, about the issue of the Manas base and how that’s going to go forward. How does the U.S. perceive the showing by the Ata-Jurt party? Are there any concerns about how that will relate to the Manas base?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I wouldn’t say there are concerns about this. We have welcomed the outcome of these elections. We really see these as quite an important milestone for Kyrgyzstan and for Central Asia because of the large numbers of people who turned out to show their commitment to expanding democracy, because of the fact that there was not significant violence, and because there was good turnout in all parts of the country.

The people have spoken. There are five parties so far that have met the thresholds to have a presence in parliament. A sixth may have also become eligible. That’s still under consideration by the Central Election Commission. Now once the Central Election Commission certifies the results, the parties will have to come together and choose a new prime minister and a new cabinet. I think even since the elections, Ata-Jurt has made some comments to the effect that they of course will want to consult with all of the parties about important issues such as Manas and the future of the OSCE Police Advisory Group. And of course the United States is very much willing to engage in a dialogue with the new government when it’s appointed to discuss these and any other issues that they’d like to discuss on our common agenda. Because everything that we do should be seen as being in the interest of Kyrgyzstan and in the interest of the United States, and we think that things like Manas very much are in the interest of both of our countries because it plays a vital role in helping to enhance the stabilization of Afghanistan and to helping our joint efforts to prevent al-Qaida and its allies from using Afghanistan or Pakistan as platforms to attack countries like Kyrgyzstan and also the United States.

AFP: Just to pursue that a little bit further, certainly with the election some could argue that that might be a bit more difficult for the U.S. to persuade Kyrgyzstan on the Manas base. Could it be a more complicated task now to go ahead with that? Could there be more that the U.S. might need to come forward with to ensure the continued use of Manas?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Again, Shaun, I don’t want to try to get out in front of this. We’re happy to engage in a dialogue. Again, we think this is something that supports Kyrgyzstan’s own interest. But if the new government would like to discuss this and other issues, we’re more than ready to do so.

AFP: On a different issue in Kyrgyzstan, of course with the violence that has taken place there in the past, with the election results do you have an indication about how it could relate to the ethnic dynamic in the country? The Ata-Jurt country is often described as a nationalist party in its orientation. How do you see it going forward with the ethnic makeup? Could there potentially be some worries about getting along with the country ethnically?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think one of the important parts of the new constitution that was approved in the referendum over the summer was that all parties had to meet regional thresholds in terms of attracting at least a half a percent in each of the oblasts, in each of the key regions of the country. That was in part to oblige all of the parties to reach out to all parts of Kyrgyz society, to ensure that they attracted wide support. So I think that was successful. As you say, one party is known as the Kyrgyz Nationalist Party, but there are other parties that have bases in other parts of the country. Obviously when they come together to form a coalition there will a number of different views that they will have to balance. So it’s very difficult at this point to predict, first of all how that process is going to play out, who’s going to be able to form a new government, and then what policies that new government will pursue.

But again, as friends of Kyrgyzstan and as a country that has not only supported its democratic development, but has supported all of the efforts that the country has made over the last several months to recover from the terrible violence that affected it, we’re ready to have a very full and frank dialogue with the government on all of the issues on our common agenda.

AFP: So in a sense, despite the nationalism of one party in particular, you think that nationally there would need to be some sort of, by the way the system works, they’ll need to come together somehow.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: And as we know in our own country, people say things during elections that they don’t necessarily make part of their platform once take office. They often have to try to reach out to, in the course of the election campaign to try to attract a certain segment of the voters. But once they’ve come into office they have to try to balance out all of those different considerations.

Again, I think we’ve already seen that in the case of Ata-Jurt, where they’ve taken a considerably more conciliatory view and emphasize the importance of dialogue with all the parties and so forth before they come to any decisions.

AFP: Because it also relates to the Manas issue in terms of --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Potentially, yeah. Again, we haven’t had direct discussions with them about that. We’ll have to see.

AFP: In Kyrgyzstan how do you see at this point the role of the former President Bakiyev? Do you think there’s going to need to be some sort of resolution, some sort of way to ensure that some of these political fault lines are addressed?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I do think that that’s part of the democratic process, is to make sure first of all that there is some accountability for what happened during the June violence. I know that President Otunbayeva has been a very strong supporter of having an international investigation, and so we hope that can move forward. Because as you say, it’s very important for people to know who was responsible for that violence, both so that that violence can be prevented in the future, but also so that the perpetrators of that violence can be brought to justice and hopefully not allow them to do the same thing again.

AFP: And more broadly, and this is something that I think was addressed earlier I think by the White House, but in terms of the overall impact of these elections happening in Central Asia, do you think having an election like this, is it a sign potentially for the rest of the region in terms of the movement to democracy?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think that it really can be something of a model for the rest of the region. These elections are a way of attracting support from a wide range of different parts of society, making sure that their views are heard and that their needs are reflected in the positions that these politicians will take. I think Kyrgyzstan is a very good example of how everybody was predicting a lot of violence, and in fact what happened was just the opposite. People put their energies into competing because they saw that these were going to be real elections with a real consequential outcome. So they put all of their energies not into violence and trying to undermine the election, but on the contrary, to setting up offices all around the country, to participating in the candidate debates that took place, and to again, use every minute that they had to try to compete and attract votes from the voters. That is a very important and I think encouraging sign.

I think it also shows this is something that can help strengthen a lot of these other countries, that they don’t need to worry about having free and fair elections. On the contrary, these can help to stabilize countries and avert violence.

AFP: Thank you. If you don’t mind me touching on a related issue.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Sure.

AFP: I was interested in how you saw the situation right now in Nepal. There have been repeated attempts to try to form a government. What’s your reading on things right now? Are we at a serious stage with political impasse or things that are moving along somehow?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think it’s too early to say there’s a political impasse. Obviously things have probably not moved as quickly as many of the parties themselves would have hoped for, but I do think that in the process of these negotiations the parties now have a much clearer sense of each other’s bottom lines and I think they actually are moving to a better place where they will be in a position to form a government. I’m not prepared to say when that might be, but I do believe they have been making progress, albeit somewhat limited.

So I’m optimistic that this will be, that they will have reached an agreement. I can’t say how quickly, but I do believe the differences have been narrowed and that some progress is being made.

AFP: And that will be in the interest of the U.S. or --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Certainly. Because we’d like to see a new government formed so that they can begin to focus on the most important issues which are how to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and agree on a new constitution and the reintegration of the Maoist soldiers into the Nepalese army and important issues like that.

AFP: Thanks a lot.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you so much for your call.

[This is a mobile copy of Interview with Agence France Press ]