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15th Anniversary Celebration of U.S.-Central Asia Relations

Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
April 26, 2007

Well, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. And welcome to the State Department to help us celebrate fifteen years of partnership between the United States and Central Asia. You know, here at the State Department we hold a lot of events up on the eighth floor: We hold formal events. We hold diplomatic events.

But today, we're holding a family event. Each of you is part of the family that helped to create the dynamic partnerships we see today between the United States and the five independent nations of Central Asia. Just look to your left; now look to your right: You'll see faces of those who played key roles in shaping our relations.

Over there, I see Kanat Saudabayev, the ambassador of Kazakhstan, who, as Foreign Minister in 1994, was Kazakhstan 's signatory to the NATO Partnership for Peace agreement.

Also serving in Washington is Meret Orazov, the Turkmen ambassador, who played a pivotal role in the 1990s in establishing the pioneering agricultural partnership between Turkmenistan and Texas A&M University.

And I see Abdulaziz Kamilov, the Uzbek ambassador, who, as Foreign Minister, placed his signature on the front page of the 2002 U.S.-Uzbekistan strategic partnership framework, an agreement we believe continues to provide a basis for future cooperation.

And then there are the many Americans who helped shape our partnerships in Central Asia. Some are here with us today: I see Edward Hurwitz, our first ambassador to Kyrgyzstan. And I see Jim Collins, who negotiated with President Karimov and other leaders of Central Asia and later became our ambassador to Moscow. Others had hoped to be here but, most certainly, are with us in spirit: Strobe Talbott, Steve Sestanovich, Dick Morningstar, Carlos Pascual, Beth Jones.

All of you are part of a family. And each of you in your own way contributed something unique and important to U.S.-Central Asia relations.

Now, we're here today to celebrate not one but three anniversaries: just over fifteen years of Central Asian independence; fifteen years of diplomatic relations between the United States and Central Asia ; and fifteen years of an American Embassy presence in all five Central Asian capitals.

And so we want to do three things. First, we want to remember. We remember the contributions so many individuals have made over these fifteen years. Those contributions not only shaped history, but also shaped their own lives, their own careers, their own outlooks on the world.

Take three American Foreign Service officers. In 1991, as the Soviet Union crumbled around her, one young officer at Embassy Moscow was called to a meeting of her section. "Who knows the capital of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic?" the group was asked, and the officer stuck up her hand, crying out "Alma Ata!" "Good," she was told. "Then you're going there to open an Embassy."

Another young officer helped to open Embassy Tashkent — her first extended experience of Central Asia. And a third helped to open Embassy Dushanbe, a linguist who quickly learned to speak Tajik, and flew and drove around the country.

For those three officers, that early experience of Central Asia shaped their careers. And today, Tracey Jacobsen is our ambassador to Tajikistan, her second ambassadorial posting to Central Asia after service in Turkmenistan. Masha Yovoanovitch is our ambassador to Kyrgyzstan. And the Tajik- and Uzbek-speaking Brad Hanson is our Deputy Chief of Mission in Uzbekistan. Ultimately, their commitment, their experience, their passion is what has made American relations with the nations of Central Asia so dynamic. Governments establish diplomatic relations. They build embassies. They ratify documents. But it's people who build relationships. It's your diplomats and ours, your businessmen and ours, your students and scholars and ours, — thousands of them over fifteen years.

From Kyrgyzstan alone, over 3,000 students have visited the United States on exchange programs since 1991. And from Tajikistan, more than 400 high school students—just teenagers—have had a unique American experience as students in our Future Leaders Exchange, or "FLEX *," program. And so, first, we remember those thousands of individual contributions that shaped U.S.-Central Asia relations.

Second, we want to celebrate. We want to celebrate how far we have come in such a short period. In the mid-1990s, even five years after independence, we had just six American diplomats assigned to Dushanbe and, because of security concerns; they spent most of their time outside the country in Kazakhstan.

Today, we have grown to over fifty full-time American Embassy staff in Dushanbe, and they work in a big, beautiful new Embassy. In 1991, Americans and Kazakhstanis barely traded with one another. Today, we are the Number One foreign investor in Kazakhstan, to the tune of some $14 billion since independence.

By every measure—presence, programs, and people—Americans and Central Asians have come an awfully long way together. Third and finally, even as we remember and celebrate, we also want to imagine an even brighter future: a future of even stronger, sovereign, and independent states; a future in which Central Asians cooperate with one another, the United States, and our partners to ensure regional security and prosperity; a future in which Central Asians have multiple linkages to the world; and a future in which those links stretch in every direction on the compass, including to the South via a reopened and rebuilding Afghanistan.

Every day, thousands of Americans and Central Asians are working to make this vision a reality. And this summer, when we inaugurate the U.S.-funded Afghan-Tajik Bridge over the River Pyanj, we will have a tangible symbol -- in asphalt and steel -- of those joint efforts.

So thank you for joining us today. Let's remember. Let's celebrate. Let's imagine an even brighter future. And let's recommit ourselves to help make that bright future a reality. Let's work together to make our next fifteen years of partnership as bright as our first.

# # #

* Future Leaders Exchange Program

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