|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
Uzbekistan Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov
Press Availability, Intercontinental Hotel
Tashkent, Uzbekistan, April 18, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
FOREIGN MINISTER KAMILOV: (in Russian) Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, representatives of mass media. We consider Secretary of State Mrs. Albright's visit as a major political event in Uzbekistan. Mrs. Albright's meeting and negotiations with Islam Karimov, President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, have just ended. The meeting touched upon a wide range of issues. The meeting lasted for more than two hours. In the first place were discussed the questions of bilateral relations. The problems of regional nature were also considered in detail and naturally, the threats, which face the countries of Central Asia. We admitted a sufficiently high level of our mutual cooperation on these issues and agreed to continue our close joint actions.
Among concrete directions of our cooperation were noted, first and foremost, the problems of our joint actions on a bilateral basis and on the issues of joint actions within the framework of international financial structures, as well as in the field of cooperation in the implementation of economic reforms. We have also exchanged views on the further deepening of democratic and political transformations in Uzbekistan. As far as other issues are concerned, we specifically noted our cooperation in the sphere of non-proliferation. Uzbekistan supports Washington's initiative regarding hosting the International conference on combating terrorism.
We hope that such complementary dangerous phenomena as extremism, as well as the problem of narco-business will also be considered at the conference. I would particularly like to stress the satisfaction of both sides with the question of our cooperation in the field of education. It is well known that currently quite a number of our students are going through training in the United States and besides, through the Umid and other Foundations we will continue sending our young people for training to the United States. In general, it has to be noted that we have reached a high level of understanding on all issues discussed during talks with President Islam Karimov.
We are also satisfied that on issues of regional security specifically we deepened our joint actions and we are intended to continue in the future our close cooperation in this field. Thank you.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good evening. I want to start by thanking President Karimov for his invitation to come to Uzbekistan, and for the hospitality that he has shown to me here. We have all, I think, had a very good time and learned a great deal, and I'm very grateful to the President.
Over the past two days, I have had a very informative series of consultations with the President, with Foreign Minister Kamilov, and with community leaders and representatives of non-governmental organizations. My meeting with the President made clear that we have similar views on key problems of global and regional security, including the threats of terrorism and narco-trafficking. The U.S. has pledged to help Uzbekistan combat these threats through additional assistance to enhance its border security, customs, and law enforcement capabilities.
President Karimov welcomed the U.S. initiative to organize a counter-terrorism conference in June, and agreed to send a high-ranking delegation. We had a frank discussion of the importance of meeting international norms on a variety of human rights issues. Uzbekistan would move closer to those norms by cooperating with international humanitarian organizations to arrange visits to Uzbekistan's prisons, by expanding the registration of human rights organizations, and protecting human rights defenders, and by opening up access to the Internet.
Improving the human rights situation would also contribute to Uzbekistan's stability. The President and I also had an in-depth review of economic issues, including ways to make Uzbekistan more attractive to foreign investment. Nothing would do more to bring in investment than establishing full currency convertibility. In today's global economy, a non-convertible currency is a huge handicap to economic growth.
Finally, let me say that my visits to the centers of Islamic learning in Samarkand and Bukhara gave me a new appreciation of this country's history and culture, and I believe that Uzbekistan's future can be as bright and glorious as its past.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Madame Albright, what are your views on the increasing activities of Iran in Central Asia?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say the following, on Iran in general. I think that we are following very carefully the development in Iran in terms of the elections that have taken place, and the potential of the reform movement. I gave a speech recently in which I laid out the possibilities for a different relationship between the U.S. and Iran. But at the same time, I warned about our major concerns with Iran, which are their desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction, support for terrorism, and their lack of support for the Middle East peace process. Therefore, where Iran is in fact somehow involved in supporting extremists, wherever, we would be opposed to that.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you brought with you a long list of U.S. concerns to each country that you visited in this region. Here, one of those top concerns was about crackdowns on Muslim fundamentalists. I'm wondering, first, from the Foreign Minister, what the response of the Uzbek government was to these concerns. And, Madame Secretary, whether you think their response was satisfactory or not.
FOREIGN MINISTER KAMILOV: (in Russian) We have indeed to a certain extent discussed this question. You have formulated your question as "persecution of fundamentalists." If these are fundamentalists, if there are extremists involved in terrorism, then they, no doubt, must be persecuted in any state. I would like to repeat again what we have been telling reporters more than once. More than 85 percent of the population in Uzbekistan are Muslims. And we realize quite well what it means to take certain actions against Muslims. It is the same thing as to take action against oneself, against one's own people, against one's own state. That is why in this case the talk is about clear difference between people who preach enlightened normal Islam, as a world religion, which carries with it cultural civilizing heritage, and the people who use Islam for their political purposes. That is we are absolutely and categorically against politicizing Islam and use of any religion for political purposes for the purposes of political struggle.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say that I obviously raised all our concerns about various human rights questions in Uzbekistan with the President, and the importance of following the rule of law and living up to international norms. On the specific issue of how believers in Islam are treated, and the problem of terrorism, we did speak about that. I made very clear the necessity of religious tolerance and the importance of allowing that to go forward. As the Foreign Minister has pointed out, the vast majority of this country is Muslim, and today we did in fact see the high respect in which the Muslim religion is held where we were, in Bukhara, and yesterday in Samarkand. I did, however, express the sense that we had that it was necessary that the government of Uzbekistan distinguish very carefully between peaceful devout believers and those who advocate terrorism or violent political change. We are concerned that an unwillingness to make such distinctions actually undermines security by strengthening those who favor extremism and terrorism.
So we do believe that the government of Uzbekistan understands that there is a real threat here. We don't dispute that. But we believe that that should be responded to through the rule of law, and not over-reaction and being very careful to distinguish between devout believers and those who might be exploiting.
QUESTION: (in Russian) Mrs. Albright, there were some reports in the mass media that upon completion your term of service in the Department of State you may continue your political career as a future President of the Czech Republic. Are there any grounds under such assumptions? Thank you.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, it doesn't have any foundation. I was born in Czechoslovakia, and have always been very flattered by how well the Czech people and the government there have treated me. I am an American, and very proud to represent the United States as Secretary of State.
QUESTION: (in Russian) I represent an independent TV company from Urgench. Mrs. Albright, we have heard that the United States plan to assign 10 million dollars for combating terrorists. Is that true? What role does this money play in the democratization of society in Uzbekistan? Thank you.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We have, when we have been here, as well as in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, said that we want to provide funds to help in dealing with border problems, dealing with narco-trafficking, and having a good cooperative relationship with the governments in terms of dealing with real terrorists. As I said, we do believe that there is a threat. At the same time, we are and have spent a large amount of money, not only in Uzbekistan, but in the other of the two countries…We can provide you with the amount of the funds… for education, educational exchanges, for, in other countries, potential of access to Internet, working with various organizations to support local government and trying to work with the independent media. I think this is one of the essential elements of democratization, is the idea that the independent media be allowed to function without being tangled up in bureaucratic red tape, which prevents them from working. And this is the point that I made earlier. We believe, with the government of Uzbekistan and the other governments, that there are genuine terrorist threats in this region. But they can best be dealt with by the rule of law, by some very specific actions to fight terrorists, but mostly, I think, by allowing there to be a greater expression of freedom by those people who support the government.
QUESTION: (in Russian) Madame Albright, how great may be the level of cooperation between Russia and the United States in the solution of problems of regional security in Central Asia? And an option: to what extent the interests of those countries may overlap here? Thank you.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say that I think generally our cooperation with Russian on a host of issues is good. We have some disagreements on subjects. The major one at the moment is Chechnya, where we believe that the Russian government is not solving the problem militarily, and needs to deal with it politically. I think that we do agree, both of us, on the fact that these countries that were former members of the Soviet Union now should have their territorial integrity and sovereignty respected. I have felt, during this trip, that it is very important for everyone with whom I speak that we are not involved in a zero-sum game here with the Russians. That it is possible and good to have friendly relations with these countries, with both us and Russia. We need to support democratization and economic development in Central Asia so these countries can be self-sustaining open societies that do not provide haven for terrorists which are a genuine threat to all civilized countries.
QUESTION: Foreign Minister Kamilov, the United States thinks that this country needs to make reforms as quickly as possible, including making its currency fully convertible. Does your government intend to do that soon? And do you think that the United States' analysis of your situation is accurate? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER KAMILOV: (in Russian) This question has been undoubtedly raised in the agenda in the course of Secretary of State Mrs. Albright's visit. And we have exchanged views, including in the course of the recent talks with President Islam Karimov. There is no doubt a desire to achieve the convertibility of the national currency as soon as possible, as the case may be in any newly independent state. And we hope that this question will be moved forward and we will strive towards the convertibility of the national currency. And today Mrs. Albright proposed to hold respective consultations in the feasible future on the further development of available programs regarding the move forward towards convertibility of national currency, including that in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund.
QUESTION: This question is for Madam Secretary of State. I want to ask you how real Washington thinks the Islamic extremist threat is here in Uzbekistan. What form you fear it could take, and where you think the main centers of support for it are coming from?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We do agree that the threat is real, and that has been shown, unfortunately, by certain attacks and incidents that would very much indicate that there is a threat. It is always very hard to trace exactly where something like this is coming from. One of the reasons that we are working so hard to try to get a solution to the situation in Afghanistan is because we are concerned about some of the activities that are emanating from there as well as from other parts of the region. I also, however, feel that it is very important for the Uzbek government as well as for others not to over-react, and as I said earlier, not to categorize every disagreement as a threat to the system. Because all governments need to tolerate disagreements, and need to follow the rule of law. But I don't want, and I made this very clear to the President and the Foreign Minister, we do not underestimate the fact that there is a threat of extremism here, and various incidents show it. We watching around the world, and are concerned about the rise of terrorism and it coming from a variety of non-state actors who find support within particular countries that we have designated as countries that are on our terrorist list. So we have made quite clear that there are certain countries that we think support terrorism.
QUESTION: (in Russian) Mrs. Albright, as is known, presidential elections will be held later this year in the United States. What major changes, in your opinion, will a new President introduce into the policy of the United States?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I obviously have a preference for who wins, but I do not state that. I believe that what is important about American foreign policy is that we base our foreign policy on our national interests, and that there is a continuum in those national interests. I do believe that Central Asia specifically will continue to be
important to the United States because of its evolution to independent and sovereign states, and because of its geographical location. It is very hard to predict for those who might come after this administration but we all work very hard to try to have a non-partisan foreign policy which does in fact reflect American national interests.
QUESTION: (in Uzbek) Foreign Minister Kamilov, let me give my question in Uzbek. As you know, on the basis of facts Uzbekistan has been criticized in the Annual Human Rights 1999 World Report issued by the Department of State. What is the attitude of the Uzbek Government to this criticism and how do you take this criticism, Mr. Kamilov?
FOREIGN MINISTER KAMILOV: (in Russian) In the first place, we react calmly to this criticism. Many issues which were raised in this document are well known and we are not going to idealize and state that there are no problems like that. I must say that the key points of this criticism were raised by Secretary of State Mrs. Albright. We have exchanged views and currently, I think that we do not have the possibility to go through the report in detail. Although I must say that we may accept part of the report and discuss it, but at the same time certain part of the report raises doubts in us, too, and I will state frankly, we cannot accept it.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: If I could add to that, please. We take our human rights reports very seriously because they do reflect America's interest, and it goes a little bit to the question that was asked of me earlier. The United States believes there would be great progress if more countries were democratic, free market systems, and that human rights were practiced according to the international norm or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That is part of our policy which I am sure will be continued by whomever is elected. I did, in fact, discuss the issues with President Karimov. I have made my statement that I think that some of you have heard me say before, which is I have come a long way, so I must be frank. I have made our views known very clearly. The President said that he would look into the possibility of the ICRC visits and that he took on board the issues that I raised. He disagreed with me, and I disagree with him. So, we were very frank about it, and we will continue to make our case, and will continue to follow events here very carefully, at the same time making very clear that we consider Uzbekistan a friend, and very important to us across the board in the many relationships that bind us together.
QUESTION: (in Russian) Mrs. Albright, please tell us: in the whole world religious Islamic extremists consider the United States as their enemy number one. Why nevertheless you, the United States find the possibility of supporting the Islamic extremists in Chechnya?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I do not agree with the fact that we are supporting Islamic extremists in Chechnya. We have said many times that there is in fact a problem that the Russians have to deal with, in terms of terrorism, the Uzbekis have to deal with, we have to deal with in the United States, that they have to deal with in Europe and throughout the world. This is a common and unfortunate threat of the 21st century
and we need to deal with it appropriately through the various mechanisms that we have been talking about here. Where we disagree on Chechnya is that innocent civilians have been killed by bombings that are, we believe, indiscriminate. We have been concerned by the number of displaced persons, and the number of people who have suffered as a result of the Chechnyan war. We think that a legitimate way to deal with the problem of Chechnya, and there is a genuine problem, is through political dialogue, and not through a military solution.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, if I understood this right, President Karimov in the past extended an invitation to the opposition leaders who were forced to enter exile, to return and to take part in the political process here. Did he follow up with that in the meeting with you? Did you discuss the issues at all?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We did not specifically discuss those individuals, but we did talk. I raised the issue of allowing greater participation by those who can be viewed as opposition figures. I did say to the Foreign Minister, and in my speech yesterday, and as I've responded to other questions, that I think it is very important to distinguish between political opponents and criminals. It is possible to be a political opponent, and it is legitimate to be a political opponent without being labeled as a terrorist or a criminal.
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