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U.S. Af-Pak Envoy Holbrooke Heading To Central Asia

Richard Holbrooke at a press conference in Kabul
WASHINGTON -- Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is set to make a quick but thorough swing through Central Asia this weekend.

Holbrooke will head to the region from Pakistan, where he met with government officials on February 18 -- two days after the Afghan Taliban's second-in-command was captured there.

Before his meetings in Islamabad, Holbrooke was in Kabul with President Hamid Karzai and NATO military leaders.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that details of Holbrooke's Central Asian itinerary haven't been finalized but stops are confirmed in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan.

"It's his first visit to the five Central Asian countries in his capacity as S-RAP," the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Toner said. "Three of them border Afghanistan, obviously, and all five are involved in the region so he looks forward to the opportunity for face-to-face talks."

Toner said that discussing closer cooperation is high on Holbrooke's agenda, but did not say whether the envoy will address specific Central Asian-wide issues, such as discussing over-flight rights for NATO military planes heading to Afghanistan.

The United States' interests in the region range from energy to security to democratic development.

Central Asian countries hold varying but vast deposits of oil, gas, coal, and uranium; their geographic proximity to Russia, Afghanistan, China, and Pakistan makes them critical partners on U.S. security issues; and the United States is keen to promote democratic development in the region as a guarantee of stability.

The United States has also sought cooperation with Central Asian governments in stopping the spread of terrorist groups, halting the flow of narcotics across borders, and controlling small arm sales.