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US Defense Secretary Visits Uzbekistan


Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld flew into Uzbekistan Tuesday for three days of talks on security in Central Asia and Afghanistan. Human-rights concerns are also expected to figure in the defense secretary's discussions with President Islam Karimov.

Secretary Rumsfeld arrived in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, from Kuwait and went directly into talks with President Karimov.

A spokesman traveling with the defense secretary said the discussions would address bilateral relations, regional security, military and technical cooperation, and the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hours before Mr. Rumsfeld's arrival, a court in Uzbekistan freed the jailed mother of a Muslim dissident who had accused prison authorities of torturing her son to death.

The high-profile case was potentially embarrassing for President Karimov, whose talks with Mr. Rumsfeld were to focus on continued U.S.-Uzbek cooperation, especially in fighting global terrorism.

Reuters news agency quoted Secretary Rumsfeld as saying the U.S. government welcomes any and all progress on human rights, as well as political, economic and military reform in Uzbekistan.

State Department officials have warned Uzbekistan that $10 million in aid might be withheld, if reforms are not certified to have advanced by this April.

Critics accuse the U.S. administration of overlooking human-rights abuses in Uzbekistan in order to maintain its continued cooperation in the U.S.-led global fight against terrorism.

Since 2002, President Karimov has been a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, allowing the United States to open its first regional military base in Uzbekistan, on the border with Afghanistan.

Future U.S. access to the Uzbek airbase now being used by American forces is also a question likely to be raised during Mr. Rumsfeld's visit.

On his next stop, in Kazakhstan, Mr. Rumsfeld will likely discuss continued concerns about material left over from Soviet-era nuclear-weapons programs. The United States has contributed millions of dollars to help clean up and convert former nuclear test sites in Kazakhstan.

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