WASHINGTON -- The United States has temporarily waived a ban on providing military assistance to Uzbekistan because of the country's crucial role in transiting supplies to forces in Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials.
Washington banned military aid to Tashkent in 2003 amid concern over human rights abuses.
The ban was officially lifted on January 18, according to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who said supplying the Uzbek government with nonlethal items such as night-vision goggles and GPS systems will support its ability to secure routes to Afghanistan.
At a briefing for reporters, Nuland said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had spoken "very frankly" during a visit to Uzbekistan last fall to Uzbek President Islam Karimov about U.S. support for human rights and the desire to see reforms by Tashkent. Clinton also raised "individual cases" that Washington is particularly concerned about, Nuland said.
"Nobody is shying away from having the tough conversation," she added. "That said, we also have other interests and things that we need to protect in our relationship with Uzbekistan."
In a recent report, the U.S.-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the human rights situation in Uzbekistan "appalling."
The military sales waiver will expire in September 2013.
The move comes as Pakistan continues to keep its border with Afghanistan closed to NATO supply trucks following NATO attacks that killed two dozen Pakistani border guards in late November.
U.S. troops are due to leave Afghanistan in 2014.
With additional agency reporting