|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Press Briefing on plane en route Washington, D.C. from Tashkent, Uzbekistan
April 19, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I thought I would do a little wrap-up here. The most basic thing in my mind is, it took us a very long time to get there and a very long time to get back and there are the ten time zones, that's what we've been going ove,r and there is no question about the fact that this region of the world is very isolated and very far away and yet very interested in having an important and productive relationship with us. I got that sense in all three of the countries, that they very much value the fact that a Secretary of State showed up and that all the other contacts that go on, when Ambassador Sestanovich goes out or various other people, that they really appreciate it and want to be connected. That the issues they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, such as how to move their economies forward and deal with democracy and then deal with issues of cross-border problems, narco-trafficking, drugs, and then be also surrounded by very important powers, China and Russia and the problems of Afghanistan and Iraq, that they were glad to see me.
From our perspective the issues that they deal with are actually the issues that are very germane to us as we try to deal with the new threats, that they have the same interest in them that we do. And in our longer-range goal here, having more democracies and market systems in the world, that they are very, very important to us in that regard. I think that what became even more evident to me then when I just read about it or when I see these people in Washington or New York or Geneva or some place, is that this part of the world was originally treated in an off-handed and patronizing way by the Russians, and then by the Soviets. They dumped people into it, they took advantage of their land and their water by the virgin lands projects. They treated it as a place that they could take advantage of. As a result of that there are a whole host of problems that you have to see to understand. The difficulties that they're having in terms of trying to figure out how to operate with each other, how to relate to Russia, how to take advantage of the resources that they have for themselves rather than to see …they were being exploited. And at the same time I also got the sense that they're rich places. Kazakhstan is going to be very rich. The others do have mineral resources that are very valuable.
Then the most interesting thing is the people. In many ways I'm sorry that you weren't with me at the university of Krygyzstan, the American University, because they were young students. They're the future. They were very smart, spoke perfect English, understood various concepts. Even in other places and the other groups, when I met with the NGOs, or independent media or the various opposition people who I met with, there's a spirit of wanting to get it done. I think that it's difficult. No doubt about it. We have to understand how difficult it is. There's nothing instant that's going to happen here. But that as a result of the various tools that we have, we're working with them, we'll stick with it and not only make an impact, but help them get to where they need to be. And the tools are whether you're looking at the kinds of things that I did in terms of the assistance on fighting terrorism or bringing the pagers in or the projects to help on health issues or the Peace Corps or USAID supporting craft projects or all the democracy projects that we do and the Internet. That was something that we were able to talk to them about - Internet access sites. So my sense here is that it was a trip that indicated to them that we care and are there for the long haul and we understand they are in a difficult neighborhood.
And for me, and as I report to the President, a reaffirmation of the fact that that region is very, very important to U.S. national interests because of the problems coming out of it and the potential for having really productive relations whether they are on trading issues and the oil or on having cooperation in dealing with terrorists or having some self-supporting democracies in that region.
QUESTION: You mentioned earlier that you were very frank in your discussion, particularly with President Karimov. Can you tell us any more about what you said to him?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: What I mostly talked to him about, he is consumed by the threat. And it's a little hard to blame him since there have been various attacks and it isn't safe. I kept talking to him about the fact that in the long run he and his people will be more secure if they don't criminalize those who oppose him. So we went through the fact that he needed to register human rights groups and that he needed to make sure that he dealt with some of the opposition people, that he was not afraid of an open media. He doesn't agree with that. He really feels that he is threatened and has kinds of statement that that person really is a criminal or that person is crazy and I said "no that's kind of standard. People used to call other people crazy." So it was on that basis that we spoke.
We also talked about the economy, the convertibility of the currency is very important and that the IMF is very serious when they point out the problems and that this is not something where it's optional. This is real. It was frank in that regard. A little bit telling him things that I didn't know that he really knew from some of his own people. So I was very frank about all that. And it worked. There were moments when he was quite irritated with me. I told him I thought
he was very smart to have done what he did in Bukhara, doing all that reconstruction on the mosques. How many people had come to me to say how much they appreciated what he had done because he gave them back the schools and gave them back the mosques and made them feel proud of their history. That is the right thing to do but equating Muslims with terrorism is not the right thing to do. At which point he said to me, "I'm a Muslim." And I said, "I know you're a Muslim." It was a little prickly. But I think we got the point through.
QUESTION: Can you talk about how the U.S. looks to stay engaged or even increase its engagement in Central Asia as well as increase its influence. I'm wondering what did your trip accomplish?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'll tell you what I think was interesting. I've just been looking through the Uzbek press. They are very excited about having been asked to this anti-terrorism conference in June. That has been played up a lot. I think what we have accomplished in that regard is they know that we are not downplaying the terrorist problem and that we believe them that there's a terrorist problem. I think I established some credibility with them in terms of saying we get your problem and then where we parted ways was when I said the way you're dealing with it, by simply shutting things down, is not the way to do it. So I do think that that was an accomplishment. I'm not going to overplay what I accomplished here. I think that there is a tremendous amount to be done. I think that we need to keep working on all these webs of connection with them that are in some many different areas and understand that this is a long process. I guess that what became clear to me by seeing it all was how Soviet the place looked and how much of an impact the Soviet system clearly has had and how you can't, even in ten years, erase what happened in, depending on the place, seventy, sixty, fifty years, and the generational thing. That is very clear when you're there. On the other hand, when you talk to some of the younger people you know that there is something that is going to happen but it is going to take a while
What I come back with is, in shorthand, that this area is far away, that it is isolated, that it is important to us to be a part of it because of our long term interests and our immediate interests and that it is important to them to have relations with us because of their desire to maintain their independence and territorial sovereignty and that we have a lot of work to do.
QUESTION: In Uzbekistan itself, did you get the idea when you were talking about the crackdown on the Muslim fundamentalists that Karimov and other people just kind of thought well we can tell a good Muslim from a bad Muslim type thing; we are Muslims ourselves.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: A little bit I think, a little bit. I mean I think that was the point, that remark. Then when you meet with the NGOs and the press people, you know that that is a problem. There is a kind of overstatement of who's a bad Muslim.
QUESTION: The other thing I wanted to ask, did you get the sense that your efforts specifically in trying to encourage democratic reform, that perhaps your efforts were more successful, or at least on the surface, more successful in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan than in Uzbekistan?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't think that's true. I would have to think about that. Why do you think that?
QUESTION: Both in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan there were commitments made to attend the OSCE-sponsored All Party Roundtables. In Uzbekistan, that never even came up. Now I don't about ICRC access to the prisons. He said he would work on that. He thought this was not a subject at our level but he did say that he would work on it. I got I think different things Matt, a know if the OSCE …
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, I think it's a different situation. I did ask Karimov little more on the economic stuff than I might have in Kyrgyzstan so I can't make that flat a statement.
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