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U.S.: Administration Gives Mixed Message On Uzbek Policy

  • Andrew Tully

Rice has called for an investigation of the Andijon events The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is giving mixed signals on its Uzbekistan policy. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called for an independent international investigation of the 13 May bloodshed in Andijon. But the Pentagon remains silent. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even helped defeat efforts by NATO defense ministers to make their own demand for a probe. Spokesman for the two cabinet departments have declined to reconcile their differences, which is rare in the Bush administration.

Washington, 20 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The divergent attitudes were highlighted last week when it became known that Uzbek President Islam Karimov had imposed restrictions on the U.S. forces using the Khanabad military base.

The restrictions were imposed after the State Department's repeated calls for a probe of the Andijon killings.

Were the two events related? When contacted by RFE/RL, the Pentagon and the State Department declined to comment.

Rice tried to reconcile the matter herself. On 16 June she repeated her call for an international probe, but acknowledged that the Khanabad base is important for U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

"While of course, as you said, we have these equities [like the Khanabad base], I think the president has made very clear that we believe our long-term strategic goals are served by open political systems and by processes of democratization. And so we continue to press that case," Rice said.

Rice also suggested that any attempt by Karimov to use Khanabad as leverage would fail.

Ted Galen Carpenter says he wonders what the fuss is about. Carpenter is the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a private policy-research center in Washington. Carpenter told RFE/RL that such disparity isn't necessarily new or harmful to U.S. foreign policy.
"When it comes to secondary issues such as this, that's not going to be something that causes severe trouble for the administration's execution of policy." -- Carpenter


In the case of Uzbekistan, he says, Bush will reconcile the policy himself, and both Rice and Rumsfeld will speak in unison. "When it comes to secondary issues such as this, that's not going to be something that causes severe trouble for the administration's execution of policy," Carpenter said. "Now, if there were open disagreement, for example, about policy toward Iraq, that would be a different matter. But this is very much a secondary issue."

Stephen Schwartz sees the problem as more urgent. Schwartz recently co-authored an article urging Bush to take a harsher stand against Karimov. The commentary was published in "The Weekly Standard," a conservative political magazine that often reflects the thinking of the Bush administration.

Schwartz says he is not recommending that the United States break relations with Tashkent. But he does believe it is in Washington's interest to punish Karimov by denying him the prestige of an alliance with America. "I frankly think that with the war in Afghanistan essentially over, there's no reason to maintain any base in Uzbekistan and they [the United States] should remove the base," he said.

Marcus Corbin agrees that the Bush administration should at least consider withdrawing from the Khanabad base. Corbin is a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information, another Washington think tank. He told RFE/RL that historically, the United States has often had difficulty balancing its military needs and its human rights policies. He says that means it has sometimes allied itself with governments with poor human rights records.

But Corbin says Bush has left himself with fewer options by openly dedicating his second term in office to the spread of democracy. "The [Bush] administration is trying to present itself as promoting democracy around the world," he said. "So if it is seen as hypocritical because of support for Uzbekistan, then that undercuts what the administration is trying to do on the bigger scale. So even if there's some military operational difficulties, it might well be worth it to reduce activities in that country."

Corbin says there are several other bases in the region that the United States can use. In fact, because of the restrictions at the Khanabad base, U.S. forces already are using a base in Kyrgyzstan.

Such bases may not be as convenient as Khanabad, Corbin says, but that drawback may be preferable to a continued association with Karimov.
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