Interview
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Bishkek, Kazakhstan
April 1, 2012


KTR: Good evening, welcome to Kyrgyzstan. On February 20, 2012, the 20th Anniversary of the United States embassy in Bishkek was celebrated which was the first foreign embassy opened in Bishkek. What is reached within this 20 years and why Kyrgyzstan is interesting to the United States?

Assistant Secretary Blake: First of all, it’s a real pleasure to be back here in Kyrgyzstan and to the lovely city of Bishkek. I’m very happy to be here on the 20th Anniversary of our relations, and I believe that the United States and Kyrgyzstan have accomplished a great deal in our 20 years of cooperation.

We’re very proud of the assistance program that the U.S. Agency for International Development has pursued here for those 20 years. We’ve provided more than a billion dollars in assistance in areas such as health, education, agriculture, economic development, and we look to continue that program for the foreseeable future.

We’re also very pleased with the tremendous progress that Kyrgyzstan has made on its democratic transition. I was very happy to be here for the inauguration of President Atambayev and again we see Kyrgyzstan as a real model for the region in terms of its parliamentary democracy.

Lastly, we greatly appreciate the role that Kyrgyzstan is helping to play in the stabilization of Afghanistan and helping all of these important transitions that are taking place now in Afghanistan.

So altogether, we’re very satisfied with the progress in our relations and we look forward to continued very strong cooperation between our countries.

KTR: In U.S. you already know the Transit Center in Manas International Airport is under a spotlight lately, and the Kyrgyz side emphasizes several times the presence of military troops on territory civil airport is unacceptable. What do you expect from upcoming negotiations in the Transit Center’s future status?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Let me begin by expressing the appreciation of the United States for the strong support that President Atambayev has provided for the Transit Center. We appreciate the fact that he has reaffirmed that the existing contract will be honored through the middle of 2014. We are also prepared to enter into discussions with President Atambayev and his team at their earliest convenience to discuss their ideas about the future of the Manas Transit Center. Again, I’m very confident we will have a very positive discussion to exchange views on how Manas might be used in the future.

From our perspective, I think after the NATO Summit in Chicago in May we will have a better idea of some of the needs that we will have in Afghanistan after 2014, so we’ll be in a better position to have that inform our discussions with Kyrgyzstan.

KTR: As you already may know, by 2014 there will be a withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan as planned. How it may affect the security of the Kyrgyz Republic in particular and Central Asian region in general?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Let me first say that the year 2014 will not mark the end of the international community’s commitment to Afghanistan. On the contrary, we expect to have a very long term development partnership with Afghanistan. We’re now in the process of encouraging countries to participate in the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan in July to talk about ways that the international community can support the process of economic development inside of Afghanistan but also the process of regional integration that will help Afghanistan.

Secondly, we expect there will be some sort of residual military presence in Afghanistan to help continue to train the Afghan National Security Forces so that they can provide for their own security. Again, I think a lot of that will be discussed at the NATO Summit in May.

So I think the international community will remain very engaged in Afghanistan, and of course Kyrgyzstan will have a continuing important role to play.

KTR: According to some military experts Iran may attack the Transit Center through rockets, even more stuffs starting between the West and Iran. According to you is such threat exists? And what are the plans for salvation of Iran issue?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Let me reassure the people of Kyrgyzstan that the mission of the Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan is to help support the important stabilization process inside Afghanistan and to support the NATO presence in Afghanistan. And the main uses of the Manas Transit Center are for the transit of troops that are going into Afghanistan, but also the provision of fuel and other supplies for coalition forces inside Afghanistan. So I would foresee no role of any kind for the transit center in any sort of potential conflict with Iran or any other country, and again, the United States is very much committed to trying to find a diplomatic solution with the P5+1 partners to the problems inside Iran. But as President Obama and Secretary Clinton have said, time is very short, so it’s very very important now that we make progress on this diplomatic solution and that all of our partners in the region encourage and indeed pressure Iran to come to the negotiating table and negotiate in good faith.

KTR: In the mind of Kyrgyzstan the United States is associated with your military base that is here. Why don’t you, in order to overcome the stereotypes, why don’t you realize large economical projects such as CASA-1000 and not only in order to overcome above-mentioned stereotype?

Assistant Secretary Blake: First of all let me say that we’ve just concluded a very important conference in Dushanbe that talked a great deal about the future of Afghanistan and the importance of integrating Afghanistan into its regional neighborhood including Kyrgyzstan. The RECCA conference, as it was called, endorsed a broad plan of regional integration projects, including the CASA 1000 project, because all of the countries of the region and the United States see such projects as critical to helping build up a private sector and private sector opportunities not only in Afghanistan but also in Kyrgyzstan. But as in every part of the world it’s important for the governments, including your government, to make sure that there is a very welcoming environment for foreign investment, that impediments such as corruption and bureaucratic controls and all other things that might inhibit foreign investment are removed. And that a very open and encouraging investment environment is created.

So we’re working with our government to encourage such things and certainly we encourage American companies to come and invest here, and we ourselves are doing our own little share. We’re building a new embassy here and we will be spending $145 million for that, so there will be a lot of new contracts for Kyrgyz companies and Kyrgyz workers that will come from that.

Again, we are very much committed to the economic future of Kyrgyzstan.

KTR: Thank you very much.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be with you again and to see you again and to have a chance to speak to you and all of our friends in Kyrgyzstan.

[This is a mobile copy of Interview With KTR]