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Remarks to the Press

Evan Feigenbaum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs
Dushanbe, Tajikistan
April 13, 2007

QUESTION: After the Andijan events, the relations between the U.S. and Uzbekistan deteriorated, what is being done now to restore those relationships?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: I・m very glad you asked this question because in fact, I was just in Tashkent a few weeks ago and I spent a lot of time talking to my counterparts in the Uzbek government, the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Minister, the National Security Advisor, and others about the future direction of U.S.-Uzbek relations.

We don・t have to look very far to see the basis of our relationship because in fact our two governments signed a document in 2002 -- a Declaration on Strategic Partnership and Cooperation. We think that document continues to provide an excellent basis for our relationship. It has a vision of common interest and cooperation; it is a multi dimensional vision -- it talks about security, democracy and human rights, political development and economic development, education, and other areas too. We see a basis for strong U.S.-Uzbek relations, which we are committed to continue, and to try to find common ground.

It・s not a secret that the last two years have been very difficult for U.S.-Uzbek relations. But one thing I was gratified to hear in Tashkent was that every Uzbek official I met declared a commitment to improving the relationship with the United States. So, I will tell you what I told them: We have three challenges. The first is that we need to take those declaratory statements and turn them into concrete actions that improve the relationship. Second, we need to improve the relationship in every area. We don・t have a one- or two- dimensional policy and so we can・t have a one- or two- dimensional relationship; we have to move forward in every area simultaneously. Third, we need to be candid about our differences, and we need to make sure that those differences do not preclude or prevent cooperation in the areas that we have common interests in.

So that・s the challenge that we see, and we look forward to hearing from our Uzbek colleagues specific ideas as to how we can move to improve the relationship.

QUESTION: What is your assessment of civil society development in Tajikistan?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: Well we think it has come a long way. We think that civil society plays a very important role in any political system. Because strong and confident political systems have a diversity of voices and they have independent voices. So Americans have been very interested to see the development of political parties, including an opposition party here, and also of organized groups.

But as I said in the speech that I just gave here at this conference, we also hope the government here will have the confidence to allow all sorts of groups and voices to be heard.

That means we want to see more opportunities for independent media here. We would like to see more opportunities for people to participate freely in the political system here. And we would like to see opportunities for a range of groups of domestic civil society and also international non-governmental organizations to work here as well. We think that Tajikistan will be stronger for this kind of pluralism.

QUESTION: In your speechx you mentioned that the United States will provide economic assistance in order to strengthen Tajikistan・s independence. Why the economic involvement of the U.S. in Tajikistan is still very weak?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: I agree with you. I would like to see more American investments in this country, so would our Ambassador, so would everybody in the United States who cares about the U.S.-Tajik relationship. But part of the challenge is that we live in a global economy where companies have a lot of choices of where to invest. That・s why investments tend to go to the countries that have created the building blocks of an environment that is good for business. That means an environment that is stable, predictable, where law and regulation are easy to understand, where the judicial system is strong so that if a contract is violated companies have some form of redress. So we in the American Government are absolutely committed to encourage American companies to invest here. But we need help from the Tajik Government to try to create the conditions that would persuade international businesses that the environment here is, as I said, stable, predictable, and the legal system is strong.

QUESTION: Governments of Central Asian countries are going back to authoritarian system of governance; do you think democratic values at this point losing their sense?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: You are Central Asian, and I will leave it to you to interpret better than I can what・s happening in Central Asia. Democratic development is important for American foreign policy because we think it・s important to the long-term stability of the countries of the region. It・s not the only element of our policy -- we don・t have a democracy policy but a foreign policy of which democracy is a very important component. But we try in our relationships with Central Asian countries to pursue more than one interest at a time: security, economic development, democratic development, and so on. Part of the challenge that we see is that we think all of these things are interrelated in very important ways. Because when people have no stake in their political system they still find ways to express themselves politically, sometimes violently, and that can threaten security.

The same thing with economic development and political development -- we think these things tend to be most stable when they are interrelated. For instance, your colleague asked me about civil society. What is civil society? Civil society is the opportunity for people to organize in groups. And whether these are groups promoting environmental change, or the rights of citizens, or business groups that promote the rights of people to engage privately in business, all of these things in one way or another give people an investment in a stable, prosperous, and developing society. So that・s one reason why we talk a lot about reform and democratic development in this part of the world. And it is not necessarily something that you can measure in one or two days, or one week or two weeks. But we are concerned about the trajectory, the direction of development, and we believe that Central Asian counties would benefit from more open, more pluralistic, more democratic societies, and we speak openly about that to our partners.

QUESTION: A year ago the United States expressed interest in funding the construction of Dashti-Jum hydro energy plant. Is the United States still interested in participating in such large scale hydro energy projects?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FEIGENBAUM: I don・t recall that the United States Government has ever said that we would participate in Dashti-Jum. But what we have said is that we are very interested in the hydropower development of Tajikistan. We have had fifteen years of American energy policy in Central Asia, and a lot of experience, for instance on oil and gas. We think we have had a lot of success, for instance, in the creation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. The United States Government did not build that pipeline, private industry did. But it was a partnership between governments and business in the sense that governments created the environment that was conducive to private sector success in creating that kind of large, important, and sustainable project.

Just as the United States Government does not build pipelines, companies do, the United States Government does not build dams. We think companies do.

Just like we saw enormous potential in that case, we see enormous hydropower potential here. So we see our role as working with the Government of Tajikistan, other interested governments, and the International Financial Institutions, to try to create the conditions that would lead to private sector investment, including in that sector. So we share the Government of Tajikistan・s enthusiasm for, and recognition of, the importance of that sector, but that・s why we talk so much about the conditions for private sector investment. We think that would be critical, long-term, to the development of hydropower.

Thank you very much.

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