BRUSSELS -- The U.S. deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs, George Krol, says in an interview with RFE/RL that although the United States seeks democratic changes in the five Central Asian countries, it is not attempting to "force its values or institutions" on them.
Instead, the United States offers regional heavyweights Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan dialogue which respects the sovereignty of their governments.
Krol, who just returned from a trip to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, also discusses U.S. energy policy in the region during his interview with RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas.
RFE/RL: In your opinion, given your experience of the region, what chances do you think the European Union has of tapping into Central Asian natural-gas reserves?
George Krol: I think that European companies, I should say, have as much chance as any of the international companies in developing their relationships with the oil and gas producers in Central Asia. So I think that it's, as it were, a playing field in which all the international companies can involve themselves -- as they are in Kazakhstan.
Turkmenistan is somewhat of a different case because they have a different policy -- so far -- of how they interact with foreign energy companies. For instance, that they -- so far -- are reluctant to have foreign energy companies involved in production-sharing agreements, for instance, on the landmass of Turkmenistan, whereas they're open to having the offshore, as it were, blocs competed upon by [foreign] companies.
So I don't know if the European companies have an advantage any more than any other companies in doing energy business in Central Asia.
RFE/RL: This addresses the regulatory side of the issue. But what about the political side -- the readiness of the Central Asian countries to go ahead and back a trans-Caspian pipeline and the infrastructure needed to get that gas to Europe?
Krol: If you're talking about a pipeline from, say, Turkmenistan across the Caspian [Sea], the Turkmen position has been that they will sell their gas at the border of their country, but that it would be up to whatever the receiving entity is to, as it were, build the pipeline to the border and that they would be able to supply it [with gas]. There are a variety of issues of how to go about doing that.
So, it seems that there is a certain willingness -- on the part also of Kazakhstan -- to send their gas, or their oil in the case of Kazakhstan through pipelines that go westward. But there need to be worked out various arrangements as to who will build these pipelines, how they will be operated, where they will be located, and who else needs to be involved in making these kinds of determinations -- such as, if it's across the Caspian, does it involve all Caspian states, as it certainly fits Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, that arrangement.
So there is, I think, a fair amount of discussion going on on how, exactly, to set up these pipelines. But these are, I think, very long-term projects, they would require a great deal of investment, a great deal of technological work as well. But as I understand, those discussions have been continuing about how, as it were, to develop these various routes to get gas and oil across the Caspian -- and also using the existing lines that go up through Russia from Kazakhstan.
RFE/RL: Does the United States play any role -- official or unofficial -- in facilitating European access to Central Asian gas? U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Matthew Bryza, for example, has in recent years been very vocal in promoting what has occasionally looked like a second energy policy for the EU.
Krol: We have an envoy for Eurasian energy, Ambassador Richard Morningstar, who is probably the best person [to ask], because I myself am not as deeply involved in the energy issues with the European Union as Ambassador Morningstar -- that is his responsibility as the envoy dealing with Eurasian energy.
He's been travelling in the region, that is, he's been in Europe, I think he was in Poland and elsewhere, and he's travelled to Central Asia as well. I think he's been discussing with European countries and here in the EU -- as you remember, he was ambassador to the EU as well -- about the energy strategy of the European Union, as well as, basically, helping to -- and I think it's a matter of discussion -- to, as it were, work out our own stated policy of being in favor of diversification of the distribution of the energy resources out of Central Asia, and to see that these resources can get to the markets in most efficient ways, and in ways that also protect the security of those routes.
[The U.S.] position has long been that relying on a monopoly route is vulnerable for a lot of reasons -- for technical reasons, if something should happen to the line, and the like -- and therefore it just makes a great deal of sense that there be multiple routes that can be used in order to get these resources to the world market. And that, I believe, continues with this administration as well in working with all the interested parties in the area.
Reaching Out To Central Asia
RFE/RL: On a more Central Asian note, what are the horizons of U.S. policy vis-a-vis these five countries. How far ahead do you look and where would you like to see them within that time frame?
Krol: Our relationship -- that of the United States with each of these five countries -- is long term. Ever since they emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the United States established diplomatic relations with each of these countries, it's to develop a relationship with each of them based upon our common interests and common respect, but also fundamentally in recognition and support of their sovereignty and independence as states, and in their development as sovereign and independent states.
This has been the long-term American position, certainly since I've been involved --since 1991-92 -- myself. [It's] a long-term relationship of working not only with the governments, but also with the peoples of each of these countries in developing a relationship between the United States and each of them that reflects our mutual interests and our values.
RFE/RL: You haven't mentioned the words democracy or the rule of law. Does that mean they're not on your agenda?
Krol: No, no, no. I think that in the development of societies and governments that are stable, and are reflective of the needs and responsibilities of the governed and the governing, it requires the establishment of the rule of law. And we would say also a democratic system in which the governments are responsible to the people and the people have the ability to influence the governments.
This is a long process of developing democratic institutions, certainly in societies where they had never existed. And, again, it has to be conducted with full respect [to the fact] that these are independent, sovereign countries.
The position of the United States, and particularly of the Obama administration -- as President [Barak] Obama has stated himself -- [is] that the United States doesn't wish to force its values or its own institutions on these countries, but wishes to engage in a constructive dialogue, in engagement with these countries and these societies in order to help foster an environment and the development of democratic institutions and democratic values that are, again, not forced on these societies, but are understood [and] are accepted by the societies and their governments as a means of their own development as stable [and] prosperous states and societies.
RFE/RL: Do you -- or does the United States -- see the kind of progress that the EU appears to have seen in Uzbekistan when it recently removed the last vestiges of its sanctions against Tashkent?
Krol: I think that the issue here is what sort of engagement you can have with Uzbekistan that is constructive? It is not to say that there are [not] issues that we and I think the European Union continue to have with the Uzbek authorities in certain areas of their rule of law and their respect for human rights of their citizens, and things of that nature. But at least from the perspective of the United States, we feel that a policy of constructive engagement with the authorities and society is one that perhaps can enable us to, as I said, work more constructively in these very sensitive areas in the country.
I think that when I was just in Uzbekistan, I could see that there are certain developments that are, I would say, very progressive in the sense that they have taken very seriously the issue of trafficking of persons -- where they've set up centers for dealing with the victims of this, both men and women. So they're taking things like this very seriously and putting resources to them.
Kazakh Heading OSCE
RFE/RL: Do you still feel that Kazakhstan is deserving of the distinction of the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) next year?
Krol: Well, the United States has supported the chairmanship of Kazakhstan of the OSCE and we believe and will work to ensure that it will be a successful chairmanship. That is, as we define it, it would be that [Kazakhstan] maintains the values and even can progress them in the three general "baskets" of OSCE activities -- which are security, economics, and the human dimension and human rights.
As you probably know, when Kazakhstan received the nod, as it were, from the OSCE in Madrid [in 2007] to assume this [chairmanship], they took upon themselves certain responsibilities and obligations in order to commit themselves to the principles of the OSCE. We have a strong dialogue with Kazakhstan on their chairmanship. It was a matter that I discussed with them when I was in Astana just a few weeks ago, the deputy foreign minister of Kazakhstan was in Washington, as well.
So there are very close consultations between the United States and Kazakhstan, as I think there are between Kazakhstan and other partners of the OSCE, to see that this will be a successful chairmanship.
RFE/RL: Tajikistan is seemingly attempting to balance the Russian influence in the region by developing closer ties with Iran. Is this a matter of concern for the United States?
Kroll: We understand that Tajikistan is a sovereign and independent country and therefore has a right to develop its relationships with other countries in the area. I think that as long as these relationships don't threaten the fundamental interests of the United States or others in the region, I don't think that it's a matter or cause of concern. and I don't see that anything that's in these relationships is a matter of concern for the United States at this point.