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Press Interview with Agym Newspaper

Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs
Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic
June 11, 2007

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Nice to see you, thanks for coming. I have had a very good visit here. I've had a chance to meet the President, Prime Minister, members of Parliament, members of civil society and economic officials and drug control officials. So I think this is a very positive visit. I think we are looking at an expansion of the relationship in a broad range of areas. I'd be glad to answer any questions you may have.

QUESTION: I am also very glad to meet with you today. My first question will be about the Ganci Air Base located at Manas Airport. There has been a long discussion about the issue. If you could comment on what decision has been taken on it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I did have a lot of discussions with different officials, members of parliament and a variety of people. I think everybody understands the important role that the airbase plays in supporting our operations and operations of many other countries to stabilize Afghanistan. This is an important contribution Kyrgyzstan makes to the stability of the region. So, what we talked about was not the question of is there an airbase or isn't there an airbase, but how we can ensure that airbase has a good and positive relationship with citizens of the country and how can we worked out problems before they become serious. And I think we are doing that and we are moving to resolve the incidents that occurred. We have made a payment to Mrs. Ivanova that is more than 20 times her late husband's salary, so this gives her a basis for her future life. We are offering a payment in regard to the damages that were caused in the airplane incident. We are also looking at how to make sure that this base contributes to the economic life of citizens and make sure that we have mechanisms in place so we don't have problems.

QUESTION: Unfortunately, there were rumors that the airbase could be used to attack Iran if the situation there escalates into the bad side?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: You know, first, I have to say that is totally ridiculous. I have to wonder who is spreading these rumors and why they keep coming back again and again and again, despite the facts. The base is not set up for that kind of thing. It is not the purpose of the base. That is not what is going on the base. And, frankly, we are pursuing a diplomatic path in resolving the issue with Iran. So, I don't know why this is…keeps coming back, but it is totally untrue and has no foundation.

QUESTION: You know that Kyrgyzstan is a small country and it hosts airbases of two big countries: the United States and Russia. Now, our politicians are experiencing a difficult time, maybe due to Kyrgyz society being too politicized or other reasons. So, what is your idea -- is there a competition between Russia and the United States here?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No. Frankly, we are not here to compete with others. We are not here to play games with Kyrgyzstan. We are here to support the independence of Kyrgyzstan, the sovereignty of Kyrgyzstan, development of Kyrgyzstan and the role Kyrgyzstan can play in enhancing the stability of the region. It is up to Kyrgyzstan to choose its partners in that regard. And this is our policy for Kyrgyzstan and the whole region. Countries benefit the most when they have variety of options, when they have different partners, when they have different export routes, different routes to produce and export energy, for example. Kyrgyzstan is becoming a center of education in the region. We are trying to support that by supporting the American University of Central Asia as a regional institution. But as Kyrgyzstan develops its other universities, sometimes with other partners, that all goes together to form a regional center for education and ideas, and that can be the role Kyrgyzstan plays.

QUESTION: Kyrgyzstan was always proud of being an island of democracy for fifteen years, but lately we were noticing that some of the democratic institutions were getting weaker. So, did you notice such a change?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think our view is that democracy is never perfect. We are still working on it and we've been working on it for 200 years. You always have to keep looking at the current situation, at what you can do to improve, what you can do to give people more choices, better choices, more opportunities to decide their own lives. So there has been some political turmoil in Kyrgyzstan in the last of couple years. We think it is time for this to settle down, for the constitutional changes go through, political parties to agree on reforms and to move forward together. There always will be political debate and discussions in Kyrgyzstan and that is part of moving forward and part of giving people ideas and choices. We have been worried about some of the problems the press has faced and some of the problems your newspaper faced. That seems to have settled down, but I think we are still looking at how to promote the availability of unbiased information for people, for voters, for citizens who want to make choices about economic life and about the government.

QUESTION: If you could comment on the United States' political views on international relations, for example, your affairs with Iraq, Iran, and internal political development in the United States. We have heard that if the Democrats will win the presidential elections, they will stop all military actions which are being held by the U.S. Is this true?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I guess the only thing I can tell you is that we will have to see. There is a lot political debate in the United States about Iraq. It is one of the big problems we face as a nation. And we are working through this democratic process to come up with ideas and answers to figure out what is the best way ahead is going to be. By and large most people agree we have to help to stabilize Iraq, provide Iraqis with the ability to secure their own nation. And then we have to withdraw U.S. forces -- we don't want to stay there forever. So, the debate is really over how to that and how quickly to do that. Most of the Democrats would rather do it more quickly than most of the Republicans. But we are still 15-16 months away from our election. We will see -- you will see and everybody will see -- how debate proceeds. We will see how things will develop in Iraq. We will see who gets elected and what that person decides to do, but at this point it is a part of our political process, it is a part of a search for ideas, for consensus, for better ways to achieve our goals.

QUESTION: You probably met with people from both camps, from government and opposition sides. What did you notice? Is there any stability in their relations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think I met with people from more than two camps. I will probably see a few more when I meet with the Speaker of Parliament and a few from the parliament. I think everybody that I talked to from all different sides recognizes that it is very important to finish the constitutional changes, settle on some form of judicial reforms, for example, energy policy is a big issue. And then just start moving on, start learning how to work together, work through the debate on the other issues. I think that is certainly what we would like to see -- get through the current pile of reforms, particularly constitutional changes and start moving forward towards resolving other issues of the nation.

QUESTION: Thank you for your time.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Thank you. Please pass my best regard to your colleagues at the newspaper.

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