TASHKENT -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has hailed the “wonderful, rapidly growing” partnership between the United States and Uzbekistan, which he said “deserves praise for its progress on human rights issues.”
Pompeo made the comments on February 3 after talks with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, the last leg of his tour to Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
During his visit, he also met with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev, whom he thanked for his "leadership in forging the strategic partnership between the U.S. and Uzbekistan."
"I commend Uzbekistan for its reform efforts aimed at a more free and open society with a more accountable government," he tweeted.
Mirziyoev has taken steps to bolster the country's struggling economy and to implement reforms since coming to power in 2016. Still, rights watchdogs have expressed concerns about conditions in Uzbekistan, where rights abuses had been widespread under his predecessor, Islam Karimov, who had ruled Central Asia's most populous country with an iron fist since before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Freedom House, for instance, ranked Uzbekistan "not free" in its Freedom On The Net 2018 assessment and said the Internet environment there remained "repressive."
Speaking alongside Kamilov, Pompeo said Uzbekistan “is expanding space for civil society, addressing forced labor issues, and loosening restrictions on the media, just to name a few.”
The state secretary also called for “further progress in these areas and others, especially in aggressively investigating and prosecuting human trafficking.”
Kamilov said his country will continue to coordinate its activities regarding the situation in neighboring Afghanistan, as well as looking to grow ties in other areas.
Pompeo and Kamilov also took part in a meeting with their counterparts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
The agenda of the talks included regional security, regional cooperation, and the situation in Afghanistan, according to the Uzbek Foreign Ministry.
The so-called C5+1 forum was established in November 2015 “to address common security and environmental challenges, improve regional trade flows, and enhance prospects for U.S. trade and investment with the region.”
Pompeo arrived from Kazakhstan where he met with President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev and his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbaev. He also met with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Minsk on February 1 and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on January 31.
He began his trip in Britain on January 29 and had meetings with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.