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Rice to Visit Four Central Asian States Next Week


The State Department said Tuesday Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit four Central Asian countries next week on a trip focused on democracy building and security issues. But her itinerary does not include Uzbekistan, with which the United States has had a falling-out over the violence last May in Andijan.

The Secretary will go to Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan in the four-day visit to the region. But Uzbekistan, until recently a close anti-terrorism partner of the United States, is not on the itinerary, reflecting the continued strain in relations stemming from the Andijan events.

The United States drew the ire of the Uzbek government of President Islam Karimov with its insistence on an international inquiry into the May 13 explosion of violence in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan.

Human rights groups contend that Uzbek security forces killed hundreds of demonstrators there during protests sparked by a jailbreak incident engineered by Islamic militants.

Uzbek authorities maintain there were fewer than 200 deaths and that most of those killed were members of the security forces.

They refused to yield to pressure for an outside inquiry, and last month put 15 alleged instigators of the violence on trial, some of whom accused the U.S. embassy in Tashkent of funding anti-government unrest.

Uzbekistan has also moved to end U.S. access to an Uzbek airbase being used to support military operations in Afghanistan, and to halt anti-terrorism cooperation with the United States.

The Bush administration last week sent a senior envoy, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Daniel Fried, to Tashkent to discuss the relationship and again press for the international inquiry on Andijan that has also been sought by the European Union.

At a news briefing Tuesday, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said there has been no change in the Uzbek position on Andijan since the Fried mission.

He said the United States stands ready to restore its relationship with Uzbekistan, but reiterated it will not compromise human rights principles for the sake of security interests.

"We will see over time what kind of relationship the Uzbek government wants with the rest of the world," said Mr. McCormack. "We stand ready to have a different kind of relationship, but make no mistake: in our view our strategic security interests in the region, and our interest in promoting democracy in the region, in promoting human rights, we believe, are indivisible in the case of Uzbekistan. And that is a message that Mr. Fried sent very clearly to the Uzbek government."

The Bush administration has withheld more than $20 million in aid to Uzbekistan to underline its displeasure over the handling of the Andijan affair.

The European Union, for its part, imposed sanctions against Uzbekistan Monday, including an embargo on arms and equipment that could be used for political repression, and curbs on E.U. meetings with Uzbek officials.

Spokesman McCormack said the Bush administration is continuing to review all elements of relations with Uzbekistan but gave no indication that additional U.S. punitive steps are pending.

Under questioning, he also dismissed suggestions that next week's mission by the Secretary is aimed at countering Russian and Chinese influence in Central Asia.

He said the United States is not trying to dictate the kind of relationship the Central Asian states will have with other powers, and in fact encourages "strong and transparent" ties between them and Moscow and Beijing.

In June, Russia, China and four Central Asian states, at a meeting of the regional Shanghai Cooperation Organization, issued a joint call on the United States to set a date for withdrawing troops and aircraft from bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Spokesman McCormack noted that Afghanistan, which also belongs to the Shanghai group, did not sign the statement and subsequently made clear it welcomed U.S. and other outside military assistance.

Uzbekistan in July gave the United States 180 days to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad (or K-2) base it has been using since late 2001, and Assistant Secretary Fried made clear last week U.S. forces will comply.

Kyrgyzstan has said the United States can use its base, at the Manas airport, until the security situation in Afghanistan is stabilized.

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