ASHGABAT -- A top U.S. official has told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service that Ashgabat has made some progress in human rights but still has a "lot of areas" where improvement is needed.
Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake made the remarks during a visit to the Turkmen capital to inaugurate the first annual bilateral consultations with the Turkmen government.
Blake said his talks with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov covered security cooperation, energy, and economic cooperation, as well as human rights.
"We had a very good discussion about the human rights situation in Turkmenistan,” Blake said. “The United States recognized that Turkmenistan has made some progress in areas such as the registration of the Catholic Church, and the new amendments to the criminal code that provide, for instance, for new penalties against those who engage in trafficking in persons."
But further progress is needed, Blake said, adding that he had discussed ways that the United States can help Turkmenistan improve its rights record.
Blake is due in Uzbekistan today, before heading to Kyrgyzstan to assess the situation there following days of ethnic violence in the south. More than 170 people have been killed and tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks have fled the violence.