Washington, 31 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The United States will be providing Uzbekistan $160 million in aid in 2002, reflecting the countries' close cooperation in the war on terrorism and America's desire to promote democracy in the Central Asian country.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that the aid package, an increase of $100 million over earlier figures, also reflects America's long-term commitment to helping Uzbekistan strengthen its economy, security, and civil society.
The United States is providing the additional funds in spite of its criticism of the Uzbek government's record on human rights and democracy. Such criticism was voiced again in January when the Tashkent government sponsored a referendum to extend the term of office of President Islam Karimov.
Boucher said the funds would go to technical assistance, educational visits to the United States, grants to non-governmental organizations and local communities, credits for small business, and humanitarian aid.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones, visiting Uzbekistan on 29 January, said Washington perceives a new commitment by the government in Tashkent to improving democracy and human rights.
The Central Asian state has agreed to the deployment of 1,500 American troops at its Khanabad air base as part of the U.S. military deployment which ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday that the military relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan is beneficial to both countries.
Rumsfeld told a Washington news conference that the U.S. appreciates Uzbekistan's decision to provide facilities to the American military in its fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces: "I suspect that we'll have these kinds of relationships for some time into the future It's good for them, it's good for us, it's good for NATO."
Rumsfeld said the U.S. and Uzbekistan already had a working military relationship before the 11 September terrorist attack on America. He noted that Uzbekistan has been a member of the Partnership for Peace program in NATO.