Background Briefing in Tashkent
MODERATOR: All right. Ladies and gentlemen, we are in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Our Secretary has just had a meeting with President Karimov. And here to readout that meeting is [Senior State Department Official] hereafter known as Senior State Department Official. Take it away.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you, [Moderator]. So the Secretary had a good two and half hour meeting with President Karimov. They – let me just sort of run through quickly all the sort of major categories of what they discussed, I’d be glad to take your questions.
President Karimov began with a kind of fairly lengthy review of the contacts that they’ve had in the past. As you know, the Secretary, when she was first lady, was here in 1997. President Karimov, at that time, met her both in Tashkent, then they went out to Bukhara together. She was here last year as well – many of you were on that trip – after the OSCE Summit, and then was now for this visit she – he thanked her for the role that she’s playing to help to broaden our – deepen our relationship between the two countries.
The Secretary then reviewed the situation in Afghanistan and – along the lines of – very familiar to all of you. President Karimov expressed support for the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. The Secretary thanked them for the support that Uzbekistan has provided on the Northern Distribution Network, as well as the important support that Uzbekistan has provided on things like the rail line that they have built from their border to Mazar-e Sharif, as well as the electricity lines that are now providing electricity for Kabul. And she then pivoted into the very important priority that we are now placing on the New Silk Road, described that in some detail for President Karimov.
President Karimov then asked for more information about the post-2014 plans. The Secretary reviewed the NATO transition plan and also reviewed the negotiations that we have ongoing with the Afghans regarding the Strategic Partnership document. She assured him that we will remain deeply engaged after 2014, not only in Afghanistan but also in the region.
Then they discussed human rights. As you all know, we have a range of concerns about religious freedom, broader human rights issues, the need for further democratic reforms, the trafficking in persons forced labor issue. The Secretary noted the need for progress on these issues. President Karimov commented that he wants to make progress on liberalization and democratization, and he said that he wants to leave a legacy of that for his – both his kids and his grandchildren. The Secretary welcomed that and said that that would help to build a long-term foundation for Uzbekistan but also for our relations.
But then they had quite a long discussion about our economic engagement. The president thanked the Secretary for her visit that she’s going to make tomorrow to the General Motors plant. He said that Uzbekistan attaches a great deal of importance to attracting more investment from the United States and keep getting more technology, and that the GM plant is a very good example of that. As you know, that – he talked a little bit about some of the things that they’re doing there, that they’re building these power (inaudible) for automobiles that are going to be exported to many parts of Central Asia.
The Secretary said we’re happy to encourage more investment. She talked about this business forum that all of you are aware of that we hosted along with the American-Uzbek Chamber of Commerce in Washington about a month ago, just before Foreign Minister Ganiyev’s visit. She noted the need for continued improvement in business climate here and that that will help to attract more investment here.
She also talked about GM’s experience and the fact that they are exporting around the region shows the potential for regional integration here in Central Asia, and again, urged the president to work with the other countries here to try to encourage more regional integration.
I think that’s about it. Those were the main subjects of conversation.
QUESTION: Can I ask a – just a logistical – kind of somehow a logistical question.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) in the opening that the pool was in, Karimov talked about a phone call he got from Obama. When was that and what was the reason for it?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That was – gosh. I don't know the exact date.
QUESTION: It wasn’t two years ago, was it?
MODERATOR: No. Last month.
QUESTION: What was the reason?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: 28th of September.
QUESTION: And why was the – why did the President call?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s just to follow-up.
QUESTION: On what? Was there something --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, again, just talk about Afghanistan, talking about their support for the NDN, thanking them and so forth. The White House provided a readout of that.
QUESTION: Yeah. I know. But I’m just trying to –
MODERATOR: I think let’s go back to the White House readout is probably the best way to go.
QUESTION: It was the 28th?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: 28th of September.
QUESTION: Well, following on that, did the Secretary – and I understand from this morning that there are certain Uzbeks that have sensitivities about this, but did the Secretary discuss further details about extending and broadening the NDN relationship?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Really, she didn’t get into that much detail. It was more of just thanking them and then, again, talking about everything that we’re trying to get accomplished and a real focus, again, on the New Silk Road.
QUESTION: So it hasn’t come in in it’s specific --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. Not – other than just thanking them for what they’re doing.
QUESTION: Were there any specific requests from our side in terms of producing --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. No new requests.
QUESTION: But on the NDN, I mean, isn’t this an opportunity to sort of make that a bigger thing so you guys can decrease the dependence on Pakistan, the Pakistani land route?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I mean, as a general matter, if we need to we’d like to be able to move more through the NDN, but as we’ve always said, it’s cheaper and easier for us to move through Pakistan if we can.
QUESTION: So you’re not actually looking to Uzbekistan at this point --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So we’d like to continue to make use of the Pakistani --
QUESTION: So it’s a backup at this point for you?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. But we still do make – about half of the supplies still come through the Northern Distribution Network.
QUESTION: Isn’t it --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) I mean half of Pakistan (inaudible) --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Roughly. Well, yeah. I mean, you’ll have to get --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: OSD - They can give you a briefing on that if you want, because --
QUESTION: Well, this morning, you were talking about how this may actually help though to sort of get preapproval if you like, if it in fact really goes south the Pakistanis then we can just swing in in here. Does her visit just sort of grease the wheels for that, for people on the ground here? Do they all have complaints? That’s not something that she would negotiate herself, right?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, no.
QUESTION: Or at least put – and you said she didn’t put that forth or anything else, I think --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. Again, I mean, these are – we’ve been making steady progress with Uzbekistan, and again because Uzbekistan has the remaining and only rail that comes directly down from the Baltics through Russia, through Kazakhstan, through Uzbekistan and then connects up to Mazar-e Sharif, obviously Uzbekistan is going to continue to be a major focus prior --
QUESTION: Has that rail line just opened recently?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Has that rail line just opened recently?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, no. It’s been in operation for a long time. The spur down to Mazar-e Sharif opened --
QUESTION: That’s what I mean.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s right.
QUESTION: When did that open?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: A little later, I think. No. It was just finished, I mean, the spur that they built between Hariatan and Mazar-e Sharif. I think they just signed an operating agreement with Afghanistan. So it’s on it’s sort of pilot program now, but it’s not fully been utilized yet. They built it and they finished it just about a matter of several months ago, so now they’re working out the arrangements for operating that (inaudible).
QUESTION: When did that get signed? Do you know when the agreement with Afghanistan was actually signed? You said there was an operating agreement.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. I mean they’re working out the operation agreement on who operates it.
QUESTION: When did you expect stuff to start going through though that? And what’s the significance of that, I mean beyond just the Northern Distribution Network, but also like economically?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, what it does is it opens up what had been a bottleneck for everything going to Hariatan and then having to be trans-loaded into trucks and the like as cargo going into. Now you have a rail lane going from Hariatan to Marzar-e Sharif, you can fireball (inaudible) break that bottleneck.
QUESTION: And it is in your view that – is part of the Silk Road thing? I mean, you can see for this concept or --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, as you know, the Silk Road is huge --
QUESTION: No. I know that it’s a broad concept. But is that --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would say it’s sort of a proof of contract. Yeah.
QUESTION: How do you view the relations between Uzbeks and Afghans in terms of so much of this NDN is reliant on the Uzbeks? I mean, how are their bilateral relations and relations between Karzai and Karimov?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’d say they’re fine. I mean, they’re – the Uzbeks have huge interest in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Huge interest, but do you see them as a constructive partner --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Definitely.
QUESTION: -- willing to help Afghanistan?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Very much so. I mean, I think they’re one of the leaders in helping Afghanistan. That’s part of the reason the Secretary has come here, is to help – to thank them not just for, again, all the help on NDN, but the leadership role that they’re playing, again, in extending electricity and the rail line and other things. That’s exactly the kind of things that we are hoping other countries will do as well.
MODERATOR: Let’s do one more apiece, and then we got to let [Senior State Department Official] get some rest.
QUESTION: What about that terrorist – just what about that terrorist group? What’s the name? Islamic Movement of --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: IMU?
QUESTION: Yeah. IMU. Yeah. Is there anything --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It didn’t come up in the meeting, but it remains very much a concern. And that’s something that we follow very closely and they follow it very closely.
QUESTION: Just a quick one on getting something on human rights. Did – she was taking a swipe at the parenting law that you mentioned. Did she get into that with him directly at all, that kind of explanation she was saying that this could backfire and make people go underground and --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. That was at – now we’re back to Tajikistan.
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. That was – thank you very much. Okay. Yes. Is it – but on human rights in general, was there anything that came up here in Uzbekistan? specifically --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I mean, I think I already described that.
QUESTION: I know you did, but --
QUESTION: But how did he respond to that? When this comes up, does he just blow it off? Does he --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, no. Not at all.
QUESTION: He wants to live a legacy for his kids and grandkids you just said.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Exactly. He wasn’t defensive at all.
QUESTION: But do you believe this?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I do believe him.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, he’s said several times that he’s committed to this. He’s made a speech last November where he talked about this. And we – I’ve been working there closely with Mike Posner, my colleague, to try to --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- to really follow-up in a concrete way and to work on some programs to help, for example, to encourage the development of political parties, to help encourage a multi – a more independent parliament, things like that. So there’s quite an important opening (inaudible) --
QUESTION: When was the last --
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit more about what is happening on political parties and that content?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, just that, that we think that there is really quite an important opening now to work on that stuff, also work on developing civil society, which again President Karimov has expressed support for. So, yeah, I do take him at his word. We’re going to --
QUESTION: Two things. Two things on that, though. One, you said this morning senior officials talked about how Tajikistan had the only legal Islamic party. Is there anything approaching that here?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL : No. There’s not a religious party.
QUESTION: And two, when was the last time you were aware of that some of Karimov’s thugs actually boiled people alive? Or is that a thing of the past?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL : That’s a thing of the past.
MODERATOR: Okay. Let’s go --
QUESTION: Wait, wait. No. I’m – it’s not a – I know it sounds flip, but I mean, are you sure that they’re --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, but they’re – yes. There are continued (inaudible) --
QUESTION: But it wasn’t that long ago.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s right. Oh, well.
QUESTION: This is a human rights question, too.
MODERATOR: Can we go to people who haven’t had a chance --
QUESTION: I’m going back to the end here. This is a human rights question.
MODERATOR: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Has Karimov forgiven the United States for criticizing him in 2005 for that crackdown that killed the protestors and prompted the closing of the U.S. base? And is there talk – any talk – I mean, has he forgiven us? And could that lead to --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. We’ve definitely – we’ve moved on for that, but we’re – we still have some quite serious concerns about the situations on the human rights.
QUESTION: But I mean on his side.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It didn’t come up.
QUESTION: I mean, you said there’s no interest on the U.S. side of reopening the base or anything like that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It didn’t – that (inaudible).
QUESTION: Does anything actually leave Afghanistan through the Northern Distribution Network or is mostly going in?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Up to this point, it’s mostly going in.
QUESTION: Are you looking for stuff to start leaving Afghanistan (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, potentially. Not at the moment.
QUESTION: Is that something that you discussed with them?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.
QUESTION: Is that something that would require their approval?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It would require their approval.
QUESTION: It would.
QUESTION: What about lethal supplies? Anything on the NDN?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Doesn’t – no.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Lethal supplies (inaudible).
QUESTION: So 50 percent is of these non-lethal supplies?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. And fuel and – yeah. It’ all non-lethal.
QUESTION: Sorry. I know you’ve been asked that question a lot from the briefing (inaudible) but when you say 50 percent goes through the NDN. Is that total, like also through – that’s through Russia, everything, or just through Uzbekistan?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, mostly just through Uzbekistan. But, again, I don't want to get too much into this, because this is all run by TRANSCOM and the Department of Defense, and they’re really the experts on this if you want to a more (inaudible) reading on this.
MODERATOR: Okay. One more, and then we got to let this guy get some rest. Anybody who hasn’t had one yet at all? Okay, Andy.
QUESTION: Just to get back to the Secretary’s comments this morning on – particularly on permitting religious expression and going back to the Tajiks on that – and I’m wondering if you could set that in a context where it’s more broadly as far as the rest of Central Asia goes, certainly Tajikistan, a number of countries, Uzbekistan, have these kind of restrictions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: And to what degree does that – I mean, she was quite clear this was going to push people underground, that it’s going to potentially create the kind of militants that you’re trying to stop.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Exactly.
QUESTION: To what degree is that a rising concern in the Department? And do you see that happening now? I mean, is this a warning that something is actually underway?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I wouldn’t say we – that there’s new threats to stability as a result of that, but again, it’s something that the Secretary and others have really stressed in their meetings, that it is important for people to allow freedom of worship, and precisely if they don’t that it is going to drive people underground. And so I think it’s more sort of an early warning to them to take religious freedom concerns seriously. And indeed, we have a new ambassador-at-large, Suzan Johnson-Cook, and I think she’s going to be looking to make an early visit out to Central Asia to (inaudible).
QUESTION: And would you say that that warning applies more or less to all of these countries?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, mostly to the – I would say to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
QUESTION: And did the –
MODERATOR: Guys --
QUESTION: Give me one last one.
QUESTION: Did the Arab Spring, Libya stuff come up at all in the conversation?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It did.
QUESTION: Not in the terms of him – in terms of any message to him that you have to deliver on your promises for --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. She didn’t comment.
MODERATOR: Okay, guys. Thank you very much. And the official.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you guys.