Uzbek President Islam Karimov is maintaining a low profile during his visit to the United States, apparently out of a desire to keep controversy over Uzbekistan's human rights record to a minimum.
Karimov was scheduled to meet with US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld early March 13, then travel to New York for several appointments, including a discussion with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
On March 12, Karimov had a 45-minute White House meeting with President George W. Bush. After the meeting, Karimov left the White House without pausing to speak with gathered journalists. In general, Uzbek Embassy representatives have been reluctant to divulge information about the visit, and media access to members of the visiting Uzbek delegation has been extremely limited. US officials have likewise provided only general information concerning the Karimov visit, declining to reveal specifics about discussions.
The centerpiece of Karimov's trip is the March 12 signing of a five-point Declaration on the Strategic Partnership and Cooperation Framework. In the document - signed by US Secretary of State Colin Powell and his Uzbek counterpart Adulaziz Kamilov - Uzbekistan reaffirms a commitment to implementing democratic reforms. The document, in turn, obliges the United States to provide aid that encourages civil society development in Uzbekistan, according to a statement released by the State Department.
The declaration also expresses a mutual desire to combat global security threats, including terrorism and narcotics trafficking. It goes on to discuss continued military-technical cooperation.
In addition, Tashkent and Washington agree to strengthen economic and humanitarian cooperation. Uzbekistan pledges to press on with structural economic reforms, and the United States indicates a desire to provide specialized assistance in education, public health and environmental protection.
The declaration recognizes a need to enhance the rule of law in Uzbekistan. Accordingly, the US government agrees to promote legal reforms in Uzbekistan and help train legal specialists.
Prior to Karimov's arrival in Washington, human rights activists urged the Bush administration to pressure the Uzbek president to ease up on a crackdown that has severely curtailed the freedom of religious and political expression in Uzbekistan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. US officials said President Bush raised human rights concerns during his session with Karimov. Uzbek officials declined to comment on the discussion between Bush and Karimov.
Since September 11, Uzbekistan has emerged as a pivotal US partner in Central Asia. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Human rights advocates had expressed concern that Uzbekistan's new status as a strategic lynchpin of the anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan would cause pressure on Uzbekistan over the government's human rights practices to cease.
Washington's criticism has become muted. Nevertheless, officials have continued to call for improvements. During a late January visit to Uzbekistan, Elizabeth Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, voiced dissatisfaction with the lack of democratic reforms. Visiting congressional delegations, meanwhile, have sought to link human rights improvements to ongoing US cooperation.
Kenan Aliev is a journalist based in Washington, DC.