Otunbayeva’s Courage Recognized in Washington

By Erica Marat

Kyrgyzstan President Roza Otunbayeva’s visit to Washington, DC on March 6-8 exceeded expectations. On March 7 Otunbayeva held an unplanned meeting with President Barak Obama. This marked the second meeting between the two presidents in less than six months.

Obama made an impromptu appearance during Otunbayeva’s meeting with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. The President reiterated his support of Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to consolidate its democracy. Obama thanked Otunbayeva for hosting the US Transit Center and pledged the United States’ commitment to “maximize the benefits” from the Center for the Kyrgyz people.
Otunbayeva, in turn, was impressed by Obama’s in-depth knowledge of developments in Kyrgyzstan. During her informal speech at the Kyrgyz embassy shortly before departing Washington, DC on March 8, the President said that she is genuinely delighted by the amount of attention and interest US policy makers pay to Kyrgyzstan.

Her deputy, Shamil Atakhanov, told Jamestown, that most talks with donor organizations were about “concrete and substantive” issues.

The main goal of Otunbayeva’s visit to Washington was to accept an “International Women of Courage” award presented by First Lady Michelle Obama and State Secretary Hillary Clinton. Additionally, Otunbayeva was able to hold several important meetings with US officials, think-tanks and NGOs. She met with Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) and John McCain (R-Ariz), among others.

Upon her return to Kyrgyzstan, however, Otunbayeva will face grand challenges. The parliament’s ruling coalition might collapse at any point over disagreement about government posts. Opposition party Ata-Meken has been attacking the deputy prime minister and head of Respublika party, Omurbek Babanov, over his alleged involvement in corrupt deals.

The overall political climate in Kyrgyzstan remains unpredictable as presidential elections approach. All five political parties represented in the parliament prefer to their leaders to be the head of state. Most are ready to use dirty tricks to prevail in the competition. Otunbayeva might be Kyrgyzstan’s only president to receive such a warm welcome in Washington for a long time.