The Long Break

by Nathan Hamm on 8/9/2006 · 7 comments

RFE/RL reports on the meeting between Richard Boucher and Islam Karimov.

Pro-government Uzbek media outlets say the two officials discussed bilateral and regional issues.

Karimov reportedly told Boucher his visit would help improve relations “after a long break.”

Is a rapproachement in the offing? says no.

Boucher’s visit shouldn’t be taken as an indication of American-Uzbek rapprochement. It is rather an indication of the mutual willingness to do something about amelioration of the status quo. Conservatives in the US Administration (Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) have already evinced interest in restoration of a dialogue with Tashkent. Washington discovered to its dismay that Russia moved in as soon as the United States was elbowed out of the Central Asian region.

So, I suppose the question is whether or not Rumsfeld, Cheney, and others sharing their opinion are more concerned with restoring partnership with Uzbekistan or limiting Russian influence.

Even more interesting to me though is that Karimov would express anything even remotely positive about US-Uzbekistan relations. All indications over the last year have been that we are the font of all that threatens Uzbekistan in the opinion of official Uzbekistan. But might Karimov be hedging his bets and keeping Uzbekistan from coming on too strong to Russia? Tashkent may in fact be seeking to maintain some room for independent maneuvering on the international stage.

Prior to its passionate renewal of ties to Russia, Uzbekistan’s foreign policy seemed to be “triangulation-lite” — a less balanced version of Kazakhstan’s. Favorites were certainly played, but the wisdom of not placing all of one’s eggs into one basket certainly seemed to be informing decision-making. Abandonment of this strategy affords Uzbekistan’s government greater opportunities to behave as it wishes without criticism, but it, I would argue, has weakened Uzbekistan’s position in Central Asia.

Perhaps the reason for Boucher’s meeting with Karimov is not so much a result of US wishes for renewal of ties as it is one of Uzbekistan’s government to slowly dial back tensions and begin to rebuild ties with the West.

If the above is the case, the US should demand good faith gestures from Uzbekistan before taking any concrete steps. Reopening ACCELS and dropping silly cases against NGOs would be a good place to start. Any further steps should keep in mind the most important lesson of the strategic partnership agreement — that the expectations and obligations of each party must be explicitly stated before entering into any agreement.

UPDATE: For the official Uzbek perspective, see UzReport. The entire story is in the extended entry as their stuff tends to disappear rather quickly.

Uzbek leader receives US official to discuss ties
10.08.2006 00:47:2

President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov received the Assistant of US Secretary of State Richard Boucher on 9 August at presidential residence Oqsaroy.

Welcoming the guest, President of Uzbekistan has noted, that this meeting gives an opportunity to exchange opinions on the issues of bilateral relations between two countries.

Uzbek President Islom Karimov told Richard Boucher that his visit was a good chance to resolve important problems between the two countries.

Uzbekistan is the staunch supporter of preservation of peace and stability in the world, and also establishment of equal in rights and mutually beneficial relations between the countries. The foreign policy, lead by the leader of the state, is based on these principles. Therefore it is necessary to emphasize the mutual understanding and respect within consecutive development of multilateral relations between Uzbekistan and USA.

During the meeting, the sides exchanged views on the issues of development of cooperation and perspectives of bilateral relations. The sides also touched upon the issues on importance of the decision of regional and international problems by joint efforts and peace.

Robert Boucher also held negotiations in the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs within the framework of his visit.

Speaking at the press conference in the US Embassy in Tashkent, Boucher said the meetings were fruitful and added that he cannot say what will happen in future. He said that the both sides should make efforts to improve relations and the US will do its best.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Nick August 10, 2006 at 1:47 am

Well, it’s politics, innit? Boucher may simply be there to ‘test the waters’.

Rustam August 10, 2006 at 3:57 am

I do not know Nathan, I think I have to say that I disagree with your analysis of these events in Tashkent.
My disagreement has more of a conceptual character, i.e. the use of “Uzbekistan” or “strategic interests of Uzbekistan” as an object of the analysis.
I believe that if you try to analyze the situation with the perspective of national interest then it does not make any sense and it has been the case at least for a year by now. On the contrary if you take the survival of the regime and in particular of dictator Karimov and his “family” as the object of the analysis then you will be surprised to find out that it does make a lot of sense.
It is no longer about putting all the eggs of Uzbekistan into one basket but about putting Karimovs two balls into one Russian or American basket.

Nathan August 10, 2006 at 6:47 am

Fair enough Rustam. “National interest” is often shorthand for “state interest” and that latter is more precise in this case.

Laurence August 10, 2006 at 8:23 am

Nathan, I agree Uzbekistan wanted good relations with both the US and Russia, but America tried to force Uzbekistan to choose one or the other. After Andijan, Karimov chose Russia. Now America is scrambling for strategic reasons. IMHO the NGOs have done more harm than good in Uzbekistan, especially to the extent they are perceived as a threat to stability and an alternate source of power and money. Therefore, it might be more productive if, in the future, the American government would deal directly with the Uzbek government, government-to-government, eliminating the middleman perception of “front groups”…Yes, it cancels “plausible deniability” that NGOs like provide. But America might decide that it would be in our interest not to pursue policies that need to be denied. After all if US dollars are going to these NGOs, it is not unreasonable for the Uzbek government to hold the US government responsible for their actions in any case…

Laurence August 10, 2006 at 8:32 am

PS-I believe this q&a reported by is related to the point above:

One of the questions concerned the so called double standards. “Numerous Islamic organizations get the necessary finances through participation in socioeconomic projects. The Akromijans did. How come the United States views some organizations as terrorist but not others? Is that a case of the so called double standards?

“Whenever people generate violence, they must be tried,” Boucher said. “When they explode bombs or murder innocents, we must call it terrorism. At the same time, those who practice Islam needs their own place too. Even when a person practices conservative Islam, it does not mean that this person should be isolated from the life of society. I believe that we should welcome the peaceful believers and make it possible for them to participate in public movements and in politics.”

Bertrand August 13, 2006 at 10:42 pm

Laurence: What exactly is it that these NGOs have done that has caused more harm than good? The whole notion of “alternate sense of power and money,” and “plausible deniability” you describe, relative to what NGOs in Uzbekistan have been doing, doesn’t hold much water. These kinds of pseudo analyses don’t help much. In fact, I think they do more harm than good.

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