14 March 2005 -- NATO's special representative for Central Asia and the Caucasus said today during a visit to Tashkent that the alliance is interested in expanding ties with Uzbekistan.
Robert Simmons said he hoped NATO's relationship with Uzbekistan would grow as NATO takes on more responsibilities in Afghanistan.
Simmons said both NATO and Uzbekistan recognize that there is a need to preserve stability in Afghanistan, which borders Uzbekistan.
NATO has been using the Hanabad air base in southern Uzbekistan, which is also being used by the U.S.-led coalition fighting terrorists and remnants of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.
Simmons also said that as part of his new duties for NATO in Central Asia and the Caucasus he would be a frequent visitor to the region.
"That [appointment as NATO's special representative] would involve me visiting the region regularly and having consultations on issues both of substantive discussions of peace and security but also on the practical cooperation between Uzbekistan and NATO," Simmons said.
Simmons also encouraged Uzbek officials to become more involved in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, noting that Uzbekistan's participation in the program had waned in recent years.