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Kyrgyzstan: U.S. Secretary of State Calls For Closer Ties

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Kyrgyzstan on 11 October on the first leg of a three-day regional tour that will also take her to Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. She held talks with President Kurmanbek Bakiev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov.

Bishkek, 11 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- At a meeting with reporters in Bishkek on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev called for greater bilateral cooperation.

Rice praised Bakiev’s role in Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution last March and the country's July presidential poll, which she called “the freest and fairest elections in the region so far."

She also thanked the country’s leadership for its "excellent" cooperation in the war on terrorism:

"We appreciate very much Kyrgyzstan's support and hosting of our forces -- the coalition forces -- at Manas [air base], which contribute to the stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan under United Nations mandate," Rice said.

Continued U.S. Presence

Bakiev reiterated Bishkek’s position on the American presence at Manas international airport, near the Kyrgyz capital. He said U.S. troops will stay in the country as long as the situation in neighboring Afghanistan requires.

“It’s not the first time we say -- I have stated this before -- that a military presence of coalition forces at the Manas international airport will last until the situation in Afghanistan is completely stabilized, until there are peacekeeping forces there acting under the aegis of the UN," Bakiev said. "This means the duration of their stay directly depends on the situation in Afghanistan.”

During the press conference, Rice repeatedly said that bilateral cooperation is not limited to security ties only. She pointed out that Kyrgyzstan’s democratic reforms and anticorruption measures -- as well as its economy and agriculture sector -- have been at the center of negotiations with the Kyrgyz leadership.

Rice and Bakiev also agreed that Kyrgyzstan should continue its cooperation with neighboring countries, including China, as well as Russia.

"We do not believe that there is any reason that Kyrgyzstan has to choose between good relations with the United States and good relations with Russia -- indeed, we have good relations with Russia -- or good relations with China. Kyrgyzstan should have the very best possible relations with all of its neighbors," Rice said.

Economic Development

Rice said Bishkek and Washington intend to deepen their partnership. She said the United States will “help Kyrgyzstan become a strong and functioning economy."

Rice also said her talks with officials in Bishkek included discussion of the possibility that Kyrgyzstan could participate in an aid program known as the Millennium Challenge Corporation. But she said the country has yet to meet the criteria on good governance, openness, and democracy.

"There is hard work ahead for Kyrgyzstan on matters of constitutional and political reform, on matters of economic reform, and the fighting of corruption," Rice said. "I know that these are issues that are a high priority for you [Bakiev], and I am glad that we had the opportunity to discuss how the United States might assist in Kyrgyzstan's economic and political reforms."

The Millennium Challenge Corporation was established at the initiative of the U.S. President George W. Bush in January 2004 to provide development assistance to countries that “rule justly, invest in their people, and encourage economic freedom."

Rice will travel to Kazakhstan on 12 October for talks with President Nursultan Nazarbaev. She has called on the Kazakh leader to ensure the country's 4 December presidential election is free and fair.

She will continue her regional tour with visits to Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

(Burulkan Sarygulova of RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)

See also:

U.S. Secretary Of State Rice Begins Central Asian Tour

Secretary Of State Rice Prepares To Visit Central Asia, Afghanistan

For RFE/RL's full coverage of events in Central Asia, see "Central Asia In Focus"

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