BISHKEK -- During a visit to Bishkek, Europe Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has expressed the bloc’s readiness to start negotiations on a new bilateral agreement between the EU and Kyrgyzstan.
Mogherini held talks on November 9 with Kyrgyzstan’s President-elect Sooronbai Jeenbekov, outgoing President Almazbek Atambaev, and Prime Minister Sapar Isakov in the Kyrgyz capital -- the first leg of her two-day Central Asian trip that will also take her to Uzbekistan.
During her meetings, she “reiterated the European Union's continued support to the reform processes in the Kyrgyz Republic in the area of electoral reform, as well as in the rule of law and the reform of the judiciary,” according to a statement issued by her office.
Mogherini's visit to Bishkek comes one month after an EU decision to launch negotiations on "a new, ambitious, and comprehensive" bilateral agreement between the 28-member bloc and Kyrgyzstan to replace one that was adopted in 1999.
The EU and neighboring Kazakhstan concluded a new agreement last year. Both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have close ties to Moscow and are members of the Eurasian Economic Union, a grouping of ex-Soviet republics that is dominated by founding members Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.
Speaking to RFE/RL ahead of the visit, a spokeswoman for Mogherini, Maja Kocijancic, said that the human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan is among the issues Mogherini will discuss in the meetings.
"We believe that...respect for human rights is a very important aspect of our relations and for the Kyrgyz Republic as a democracy. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are all values enshrined in the country's constitution and its international commitments," Kocijancic said.
On November 10, Mogherini is set to attend the 13th annual EU-Central Asia ministerial meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where she will meet with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev and foreign ministers of Central Asian countries.
Relations between the EU and Central Asia's most populous nation of more than 30 million people were strained in 2005, when Uzbek government forces shot and killed hundreds of mostly peaceful protesters in the eastern city of Andijon. The bloc reacted to the crackdown by imposing sanctions and an arms embargo against Tashkent.
However, the EU and Uzbekistan have engaged in fence-mending moves in the past years.
The EU and Tashkent signed an agreement on energy cooperation in 2011 and the bloc set up a diplomatic representation in Tashkent the following year. And in 2013, Mogherini’s predecessor, Catherine Ashton, visited Uzbekistan and held talks with then-President Islam Karimov.
In July of this year, the EU-Uzbekistan council held its first session since 2015. Ahead of the gathering in Brussels, EU officials told RFE/RL of their hope for "renewed engagement" with Uzbekistan and said they had been encouraged by some liberal steps taken by Mirziyoev, who came to power after Karimov's death was announced in September last year.
Before leaving Brussels for Kyrgyzstan, Mogherini said that Central Asia was a very important region for the EU.
"From security to countering radicalization and extremism, from trade to the support of civil society, the EU and the countries of the region are strong partners. Our annual meeting gives us a chance to review what has been achieved over the past year and to look ahead to a new agenda to foster growth, security and stability in our regions, for the benefit of our citizens," Mogherini said.