Day By Day

Saturday, July 30, 2005

US Expelled from Uzbekistan

Russia and China in recent months have been cooperating in a drive to expel US military forces from Central Asia and have been pressuring regional governments to withdraw their consent to having US forces operating out of their territories. To counter this pressure Secretary Rumsfeld recently visited the area, met with local leaders, and secured from Kazakhistan and Tajikastan agreement that US forces will remain there at least until the security situation in Afghanistan stabilizes.

Uzbekistan is another matter. There the local dictator, Islam Karimov, has been roundly criticized by US officials for his harsh response to democratic protestors earlier this year. Russia, in particular, has pressed the opportunity this incident provided to drive a widening wedge between Uzbek and American authorities. This effort just paid off as Uzbekistan yesterday ordered the US to remove its military facilities within 180 days.

This is a great diplomatic triumph for Putin who has been strongly criticized for allowing the US to "encircle" Russia with military bases, and a problem for the US. Our military capbility in Central Asia is somewhat degraded, but not fatally, and it provides the US with an opportunity to clearly define our goals in the region. According to early reports, that is the tack we are taking with this.

WaPo reports:

The eviction notice came four days before a senior State Department official was to arrive in Tashkent for talks with the government of President Islam Karimov. The relationship has been increasingly tense since bloody protests in the province of Andijan in May, the worst unrest since Uzbekistan gained independence from the Soviet Union.

Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns was going to pressure Tashkent to allow an international investigation into the Andijan protests, which human rights groups and three U.S. senators who met with eyewitnesses said killed about 500 people. Burns was also going to warn the government, one of the most authoritarian in the Islamic world, to open up politically -- or risk the kind of upheavals witnessed recently in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, U.S. officials said.

Karimov has balked at an international probe. As U.S. pressure mounted, he cut off U.S. night flights and some cargo flights, forcing Washington to move search-and-rescue operations and some cargo flights to Bagram air base in Afghanistan and Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan. As relations soured, the Bush administration was preparing for a further cutoff, U.S. officials said.

The United States was given the notice just hours after 439 Uzbek political refugees were flown out of neighboring Kyrgyzstan -- over Uzbek objections -- by the United Nations. The refugees fled after the May unrest, which Uzbek officials charged was the work of terrorists. The Bush administration had been pressuring Kyrgyzstan not to force the refugees to return to Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan has been widely viewed as an important test for the Bush administration -- and whether the anti-terrorism efforts or promotion of democracy takes priority. "We all knew basically that if we really wanted to keep access to the base, the way to do it was to shut up about democracy and turn a blind eye to the refugees," said the senior official, on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive diplomacy. "We could have saved the base if we had wanted."

It looks as though we passed the first test of our intentions, sacrificing a military advantage for democratic principles. Another will soon be coming.

The next test will be whether to withhold as much as $22 million in aid to Uzbekistan if it does not comply with provisions on political and economic reforms it committed to undertake in a 2002 strategic partnership agreement with Washington. Last year, the administration withheld almost $11 million. U.S. officials expect the Uzbek government will again be ineligible for funds.
Read the whole thing here.

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