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Central Asia: Rice Closes Central Asian Tour With Visit To Tajikistan


http://gdb.rferl.org/768B4642-CC12-448F-8925-3FE30AEFA0A4_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/768B4642-CC12-448F-8925-3FE30AEFA0A4_mw800_mh600.jpg Secretary Rice with President Rakhmonov during their 13 October meeting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice arrived in Tajikistan today for the last stop on her four-country tour of Central and South Asia that included a brief stop in earthquake-stricken Pakistan. Security cooperation was the key issue during Rice’s visit to Tajikistan. That country has a long border with Afghanistan, a source of Islamic extremism and narcotics.

Prague, 13 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Secretary of State Rice met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, then gave a press conference with Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov.

Among the first questions asked concerned the persistent rumor that the United States was seeking to relocate its troops to Tajikistan from a base in neighboring Uzbekistan, where the government ordered them out by year’s end.

The U.S.-led coalition combating terrorism in Afghanistan has maintained a small presence in Tajikistan, using the Dushanbe airport for some of its planes. But Rice said clearly that Washington was not seeking any permanent deal to base its troops in Tajikistan, or anywhere else in Central Asia.

"We do not seek a permanent military presence in this region," Rice said. "The United States is not, at this time, in a position to increase our permanent presence anywhere. In fact, we are tearing down our permanent presence in many places."

The main topic on Rice’s agenda in Tajikistan was security. The mountainous, poorly guarded Tajik-Afghan border has been a problem for both countries, with illegal weapons and narcotics crossing almost daily at some point along the frontier.

This has hindered efforts at recovery in Tajikistan, where civil war raged from 1992 to 1997, and in Afghanistan, where narcotic sales help keep alive a guerrilla campaign by fighters from the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

"We did talk about our cooperation in the war on terrorism and against narcotics and about the need to fully support Afghanistan so that Afghanistan can develop as a stable and democratic country that will never again be a platform for terrorist attacks," Rice said.

Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov, speaking for President Rakhmonov, said Tajikistan values the efforts of the U.S. to ensure stability for the region.

"The president of the Republic of Tajikistan said that Tajikistan has been and remains a partner of the United States of America in the fight against international terrorism, extremism, and narco-aggression in Afghanistan," Nazarov said. "At the same time, we believe that, while conducting an effective anti-terrorist operation and fighting today's challenges and security threats, countries should also fulfill the main task of strengthening regional security and cooperation."

After the press conference, Rice went to the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, where she reportedly met with leaders of political parties. Rice then departed for visits to France and Britain before she returns to the United States late on 14 October.

(RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report.)
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