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Uzbekistan: Prime Minister Pleased With U.S. Visit

Washington, 26 November 1997 (RFE/RL) --Uzbekistan's Prime Minister Uktar Sultanov wrapped up a four-day visit to the U.S. Tuesday, telling reporters he had "achieved more than anticipated."

Sultanov was in the U.S. to encourage foreign investment and trade with his Central Asian nation, meeting with business leaders in Chicago, New York and Washington to promote Uzbekistan as a "stable and reliable partner, which pays its debts and encourages investment so that its economy can become viable."

Uzbek-U.S. trade in the past four years has increased ten-fold, Sultanov told a press conference in Washington Tuesday at the end of his visit, topping $700 million in 1996. U.S. foreign direct investment in Uzbekistan is approaching $1 billion, he said, and over $2 billion worth of joint projects have already been approved.

Among his accomplishments in the U.S., he said, was the signing of a loan agreement with New York-based Citibank for a $50 million loan to construct three food-processing plants in Uzbekistan.

The loan, to be guaranteed by the U.S. Export-Import (Exim) Bank, will give Uzbekistan a market for its large crop of fruits and vegetables. The plants, to be constructed by a New Jersey firm, will prepare fresh food for canning. One will specialize in processing baby food for markets in Uzbekistan.

Speaking at a U.S. Commerce Department conference with business investors in Washington Monday, Sultanov said Uzbekistan is "lagging behind in our transition to a market economy, particularly in agriculture."

In addition to meeting with business people and investors, Sultanov met with senior International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials, and the heads of Exim Bank and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the independent American government agency which sells political risk insurance and provides some financing for U.S. private investment abroad.

Sultanov also met with U.S. Energy Secretary Federico Pena to discuss the energy situation in the Caspian sea region. While Uzbekistan does not front on the Caspian, it is vitally interested in the global discussions now going on as to the best routes for pipelines to take the regions abundant gas and oil to world markets.

Sultanov said he discussed the options extensively with Pena and came away convinced that the U.S. proposal for what is called a Eurasian pipeline route as the main corridor of the petroleum products is the "optimal solution."

A senior U.S. energy official says Washington is promoting a pipeline route that runs from Baku, Azerbaijan through Georgia to the Turkish Black Sea coast, but more importantly with a link to Ceyhan, Turkey on the Mediterranean. In addition, the route would include pipeline links running under the Caspian from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan has been using existing Russian pipelines and considering proposals for building a new pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. However, Sultanov told reporters that with all things considered, the Baku-Ceyhan route seems to be the best idea.

He did not mentioned proposed pipeline routes through Iran -- routes the U.S. strongly opposes because it says Tehran continues to develop nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.