George Krol, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs with VOA TV Uzbek Service – Navbahor Imamova.
VOA TV Uzbek: Thank you so much for being here, for being available to talk to us.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Krol: My pleasure.
VOA TV Uzbek: You’ve been to the region recently. You’ve been to Uzbekistan, you’ve been to Turkmenistan. With the situation as it is in the region now, how would you describe the role that the U.S. is playing in Central Asia? And also, what is the current level of engagement with the government of Uzbekistan?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Krol: I recently traveled throughout all the countries that I call in my parish, which includes -- in addition to Uzbekistan -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. I was most recently in Turkmenistan. This was my familiarization tour of these countries since I assumed this position as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State at the beginning of May of this year. The last time I had been in this region was when I worked in what was then our Office of the New Independent States, and I was the Special Assistant to our head of that office who was the Ambassador at Large, and I traveled throughout all of Central Asia several times, meeting with the leadership. This was in the mid ‘90s.
I would have to say that from the period of the 1990s when we were establishing relations with the Central Asian Republics to the present day, our -- as it were -- our policy to the region remains fairly, much on the same track, I would say. That is that we -- as the United States -- are supporting the sovereignty and the territorial integrity and the independence of each of these republics. And that we are developing a relationship, both between our governments as well as between our societies -- the American society and the societies in each of these countries, which are developing at their own rate, at their own pace, and in their own relationship with the United States. But always the United States develops a relationship with each country based upon fundamental principles of mutual respect and respect for their independence and for their sovereignty. And that we seek a partnership to be able to discuss a wide range of issues, and to develop a relationship that is involved in economic relations and trade relations, as well as, in a security relationship, as well as, in the relationship of how our governments govern, and issues of human rights, and the growth of civil society in each of these countries and each of these societies in Central Asia.
So in my latest visit to these countries I discussed all of these areas, where we stand in our relationship with government officials, but also with representatives of civil society, of political parties, of religious groups and the like, in order to understand better for myself what is going on in each of these countries.
VOA TV Uzbek: And specifically in Uzbekistan?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Krol: In Uzbekistan as well. When I was there I had meetings with representatives of the government, of course with the Foreign Minister -- I had an extensive conversation -- at the National Security Council of Uzbekistan, but also I participated in a roundtable with representatives of various civil organizations and also met with individuals like Mrs. Tojiboyeva, who had been recently released from prison, in order to, basically, get a wide view and as deep a view as I could in that period.
VOA TV Uzbek: So you would confirm that the relationship before [inaudible] and that both sides are on the same page on some sensitive issues like democracy and human rights?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Krol: We are engaging, both sides, on all of these areas. In our security relationship, in our economic relationship, and in our dialogue on issues of religious freedom, human rights, and things of this nature. And I think this is very encouraging because, and it is a step by step approach since the days after the Andijon incidents, which I think was a very low point in the relations between the United States and Uzbekistan.
Since then I think we are establishing and reestablishing a dialogue with the authorities in Uzbekistan at the highest level, as well as always maintaining our relationship with the people of Uzbekistan.
VOA TV Uzbek: Many in the region seem to doubt the intentions of America and what we hear very often from Central Asia, from Uzbekistan, from Kazakhstan and other neighboring countries is that “well, they say that the U.S. isn't really concerned about what we want.” They want our gas and oil, they want our military bases. How would you respond to that kind of criticism?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Krol: What the United States wants is a well-developed relationship with each of these countries. As I said, a relationship with the governments of these countries, but also with the peoples of these countries. And that is broad-based. It’s not simply oil and gas. It’s not simply human rights. It’s not simply the security situation insofar as if we’re talking about Uzbekistan, the situation in Afghanistan. We have a broad-based relationship with Uzbekistan as with each of these countries in Central Asia. And we have, and we try to work in each of these areas at the same time as much, as we can. So we have a dialogue on human rights. And we may have disagreements, but again, that’s part of a relationship between countries, it is just the nature. I think the atmosphere of our discussions have improved considerably. That we can sit down and talk about these things and try to find ways to work together.
We find there have been certain steps that the Uzbekistan government has taken in the area of human rights. They’ve allowed the International Red Cross to enter and to visit the prisons in Uzbekistan. They released some prisoners of concern like Mrs. Tojiboyeva that I had mentioned, as well as they have passed orders to enforce legislation about the child labor.
Naturally these are good steps, and we applaud them. We also encourage Uzbekistan to implement further, and to go further in these steps in a way of -- it’s not for the interest of the United States, but it’s for the interest of Uzbekistan itself that these advances are important. And in the economic sphere as well, that there would be a way that Uzbekistan can increase its attractiveness to foreign investment, including American investment, transparency in laws, dealing with corruption issues. These are always issues that we have to deal with. And in our own country we deal with. So with Uzbekistan, I think we look for a constructive approach.
VOA TV Uzbek: The U.S., the State Department and White House, you have been pushing for regional integrity in Central Asia. And there are questions in the region that say: “well, what do we get from this?” What does each country get from this concept of regional integrity or from this concept of greater Central Asia? Do you have a clear vision on that?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Krol: We’re not talking, at least in the United States and the State Department of a greater Central Asia. We encourage cooperation among the countries of Central Asia, but not just as Central Asia, but also with their neighbors like Afghanistan, as well as looking at all the regional -- the connections that can be made of building transportation routes that would go from Kazakhstan all the way down through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. Trade routes. Energy corridors. The provision and transmission of electricity from countries in Central Asia to the economies of South Asia. This is one of the reasons why the countries of Central Asia were put into, in the State Department Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, to look at these various opportunities and advantages of developing trade, transport, political/cultural connections that are north to south as well as to complement the relationships that each of these countries have with their traditional neighbors like Russia and China and across the Caspian Sea and the like. So I don’t view them as isolating Central Asia in and of itself, but to expand their connections and their possibilities in a broader area.
VOA TV Uzbek: Turkey seems to be trying to renew its policies towards Central Asia. How do you see their influence?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Krol: I think there’s always been certainly, since these republics became independent when the Soviet Union collapsed, that the Turkish tradition -- language, connections, and the like between Turkey and the peoples of this area – that Turkey wishes to revive and to develop a new cooperation economic and cultural and politically. And again, we welcome in the United States these kinds of efforts to engage the peoples and the governments of Central Asia in the broad world because as someone like myself who lived and served in the Soviet Union, these were closed areas. It was a closed border. And since these countries became independent on paper, as it were, they needed to develop independent economies and societies and political institutions. So I think, just like the United States seeks to develop a relationship with the governments and people, we encourage the government of Turkey to do so. And since Turkey is a direct neighbor, in many respects, and is also a market for -- for instance, the energy from Central Asia, as well as the goods, as well as a producer of goods for Central Asia -- it seems to be quite natural that Turkey is both a customer, as well as a producer, as well as a transit corridor, and a bridge, for Central Asia to world markets beyond -- such as in the more Western parts of Europe, as well as even to the south. So I think that this is a good thing.
I think much is talked about the Great Game in Central Asia, as if this is some kind of contest between the United States or Russia or major powers. I think certainly from the perspective of the Central Asians, there is no need for a Great Game. It’s sort of great opportunities that we’re talking about.
VOA TV Uzbek: Are you saying the United States is not playing any kind of a game in the region?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Krol: No, the United States isn’t playing. I know that this is often used in media -- sometimes in the region and elsewhere -- to say that the United States is trying to supplant Russia, for instance, or China. And it’s nothing of the sort. I think the United States wishes to see is each of these countries branching out and developing relationships with many countries. And not to the disadvantage of another country. So it’s not to supplant Russia.
Russia and China certainly have interests, they have needs, they have connections -- cultural, political, economic -- that are quite understandable in this area. So does Turkey, the United States, and other countries, the European Union, various European countries, that should all -- and that the countries of Central Asia are the ones that should be able to decide the kind of relationships that they wish to develop, and not feel that they are under any pressure to be dominated by any one country. I think this one message is what I hear very clearly when I meet with the leaders -- and the peoples -- in these areas in Central Asia. Is that they don’t want to be dominated by anyone. Not the United States, not Russia, not China, not Turkey. They want to develop themselves as independent actors that have partners and see partners on an equal basis, if you were, with all of the countries that they wish to have a relationship with - like the United States, Russia, China, and Turkey.
VOA TV Uzbek: Almost after eight years of the Bush Administration some analysts like [inaudible] Rashid in Pakistan, who writes extensively on Central Asia, and many other researchers back in the region see that Central Asia is now dominated -- and still dominated -- by autocratic regimes, and that the United States failed miserably at nation building, democracy building.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Krol: As I’ve been someone who has dealt with this area of the world -- not just Central Asia, but I’ve been ambassador in Belarus and served in Russia. And I’ve spent my whole career, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in this area. I would have to say that the United States isn’t nation building, isn’t building nations. That’s not the goal. It is that these nations themselves are building themselves. The United States wishes to be a partner in this endeavor, to participate and to provide whatever assistance -- whatever our example can be -- to these peoples and to these governments if they so wish.
So it’s not a matter that the United States wishes to sort of build an Uzbekistan or build a Kazakhstan. It is that we are providing examples, and also through our programs, too -- if these countries do so wish to work with us in these areas on developing justice systems, civil society, the role of non-governmental organizations, things that really didn’t exist at the time of the Soviet Union when they were Republics of the Soviet Union -- we are willing to work with them as partners, but not to dictate to them how they should develop.
These countries coming out of the Soviet period have developed their political systems that, I think, reflect the situation in which they’re in. And we have to deal with them, and work with them, and see how they evolve over time, hoping that democracies can develop in each of these countries.
VOA TV Uzbek: Where do you think or what do you think, where do you think the United States has been most successful in the region? Could you point to a policy or project that kind of showcases the Americans’ goal in the region?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Krol: I think across the board. The fact that we have, I think, very robust relationships with each one of these countries. This is something that I saw -- having come back to the region ten years since the last time I saw -- is that we have a wide range of issues that we work with together. We may have some disagreements, but we have developed strong state-to-state ties as well as strong people-to-people ties. I think, I would say that is probably the greatest success of our policy is the success of engagement. Also treating each of these countries of Central Asia as sovereign, independent republics that we respect and respect their people, and have certainly a great deal of understanding for the situation that they find themselves in -- in this transition period.
VOA TV Uzbek: Both American and Central Asian academics, researchers and educators complain that the funds for various projects have gone down and that neither side is really doing enough to boost the educational cooperation. Isn’t the support of educational programs and cooperation one of the main goals of the United States and the region or elsewhere in the world?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Krol: Yes it is. It certainly is the goal of many of these republics themselves, that they want to develop their education system to train their youth and their population to live and operate in today’s world and in the future world too. I wish that the United States, as we all do in the State Department and the United States government, that we could have more funding because the programs we have -- exchange programs, education programs. You asked about areas where we would view as successes. I think we view these as successful because the numbers of people in these countries that have been to the United States, who have had some association, been in our institutions, might come away with I think certain views about our system which they may find useful as they build their own societies. And you’re quite right, I think, that we, and I as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, would like to see more attention and more funding going to these programs, and this is something that Secretary Rice and I think all of her predecessors -- Secretary Powell, Secretary Albright, Secretary Christopher and the like -- have all called for is more resources to go to these very important programs that develop and widen and expand America’s engagement with the peoples and the governments of these republics.
VOA TV Uzbek: Thank you.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Krol: Thank you very much.