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September 21, 2010

President Obama to Signal Support for Kyrgyzstan

President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet Friday with Kyrgyz leader Rosa Otunbayeva amid U.S. expectations that her country can become the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake outlined U.S. policy in the region at a briefing in New York.

Assistant Secretary Blake says President Obama's meeting with interim leader Roza Otunbayeva on the sidelines of this week's U.N. General Assembly session will focus primarily on the democratic possibilities that exist in Kyrgyzstan. "President Obama wants to meet with President Otunbayeva, first, to show support to the Kyrgyz people and to the Kyrgyz government -- who have been through a lot over the past six months or so -- and again, reaffirm the important opportunity that now exists for the Kyrgyz people to establish the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia," he said.

Blake says the United States has allocated five million dollars to help organize technical aspects of free, fair and peaceful elections in Kyrgyzstan.  Those aspects include helping build up an election commission and providing for election observers.

The Assistant Secretary says Kyrgyzstan is a high priority for both the United States and Russia. He adds that the Obama administration's reset of relations with Moscow has allowed the United States to better engage Central Asia. "We determined that we really had a good opportunity to expand America's engagement with Central Asia with a view to making progress on the full range of priorities on our bilateral agenda, from counter-terrorism, to religious freedom, to energy, human rights and trade," he said.

Blake rejects charges by some activists that the Obama administration has relegated human rights issues in Russia and Kyrgyzstan to a secondary level of importance.  He acknowledges there is great room for improvement on the issue in Central Asia, adding that it is a consistent and important part of every conversation American officials have with counterparts in Central Asia.

Robert Blake says the United States also supports a domestic and international investigation of the inter-ethnic violence that rocked southern Kyrgyzstan in June so that those responsible will be identified and brought to justice.  In addition, Washington is also helping the Kyrgyz government respond to the region's humanitarian needs so that all those displaced by the violence have shelter before the onset of winter.