U.S.-UZBEKISTAN RELATIONS WARMING UP?
Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 212
A recent series of high-level visits and commentaries underscore the changing nature of U.S.-Uzbek relations in 1997. Last week, U.S. ambassador-at-large Stephen Sestanovich met with Uzbek president Islam Karimov. The meeting was part of an eight-nation tour of the region by Sestanovich aimed at raising issues of bilateral interest and mutual concern. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is also to visit Tashkent as part of a visit to the region. In both instances the goal is to investigate areas of potential U.S.-Uzbek cooperation — from security and trade to the environment and education. These goals were voiced also by Joseph Presel, who was confirmed by the Senate on November 6 as the new U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan. According to Uzbek press reports, Presel was particularly supportive of Uzbekistan’s stance on nuclear non-proliferation and the steps that country has taken in the area of political reform. (Biznes vestnik vostoka, November 6)
These same points were made by Uzbekistan’s ambassador to the U.S. In an interview with Pravda vostoka, Sodyk Safaev expressed his satisfaction with the increased attention being given by the U.S. to the region. He pointed in particular to the Partnership for Peace program and a growing awareness of Uzbekistan among U.S. businesses. In his opinion, "the USA does not want to be passive [in the region]." That enthusiasm is being reciprocated on the Uzbek side as top officials, including Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov and Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov, are coming to the U.S. in record numbers. (Pravda vostoka, November 6)
Such visits are indicative of a more general warming of relations than was evident in years past, when the issues of human rights and media restrictions in Uzbekistan dominated bilateral discussions between the U.S. and Uzbekistan. Increasingly over the past two years the focus in U.S.-Uzbek relations has shifted to economic and security matters. As part of this emerging rapport, the U.S. has been more willing to recognize Uzbekistan as a key regional player in Central Asia. In particular, the U.S. has been supportive of Uzbek initiatives in the Afghan and Tajik crises, as well as in the area of regional cooperation. These developments, even if in many ways still symbolic, have not gone unappreciated in Uzbekistan, where articles on U.S.-Uzbek relations now dominate the foreign policy discussion in the Uzbek national press.
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