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U.S. Tells Uzbekistan It Wants Better Ties

U.S. Under Secretary of State William Burns

U.S. Under Secretary of State William Burns

ALMATY (Reuters) -- A top U.S. diplomat told Uzbekistan on July 13 Washington wanted to repair relations with the Central Asian state, strained since a dispute over human rights in 2005 and the closure of a key U.S. military base.

The mainly Muslim former Soviet republic had ceased contacts with Washington but has since allowed transit of nonmilitary cargo to neighboring Afghanistan and welcomed President Barack Obama's address to Muslims calling for a new beginning in ties.

U.S. Under Secretary of State William Burns, in the Uzbek capital Tashkent on a tour of the region, spoke to journalists before a meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

"I believe our visit and our discussions are a positive step in our relations. I'm convinced that we have an opportunity before us in a new administration to strengthen ties between our two countries," Burns told reporters, according to a transcript of the briefing provided by the U.S. embassy in Tashkent.

"I think we do have a very real opportunity before us to do that [strengthen ties with Uzbekistan]," he said. "We see this visit as a first step in that direction."

Karimov told Burns he welcomed the new U.S. approach.

"We view your visit as a confirmation of the United States' readiness to develop relations with Uzbekistan on a constructive and pragmatic basis taking into account the long-term interests of both countries," Russia's Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

The United States and other Western countries condemned Uzbekistan in 2005 after its troops fired on protesters in the town of Andizhan, killing hundreds of people, according to witnesses.