The Bush administration is raising the prospect of new aid cuts or other punitive steps against Uzbekistan, if it is not responsive to calls for an international probe of last month's violence in Andijon. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed the Uzbek situation Tuesday with the foreign minister of neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
Officials here are making no specific threats. But State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack says the Bush administration has in the recent past blocked some U.S. aid to Uzbekistan because of its poor human rights record, and that policy toward that country is under review as the United States presses its call for a credible, independent investigation of the Andijon events:
"There have been concrete actions that have resulted from the failure to improve the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, writ large," Mr. McCormack said. "With respect to the way forward, I think it's fair to say that we continuously review where we are with respect to our policies and our positions and look at those policies and how they comport with the actual facts on the ground, the situations that we confront."
Mr. McCormack said the United States is putting no time-line on its diplomatic efforts to prod Uzbekistan into holding the investigation, but other officials have said U.S. patience is not limitless.
Spokesman McCormack joined his White House counterpart Trent Duffy in denying suggestions of a policy rift between the State Department and the Pentagon over Uzbekistan.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that U.S. defense officials joined Russian counterparts in blocking the inclusion of an Andijon investigation call in the final communiqué of a NATO-Russia defense meeting in Brussels last week.
The White House and State Department spokesmen would not discuss details of the debate in Brussels over the communiqué language.
However, they said the administration is speaking with one voice on the need for an investigation of Andijon, where hundreds of civilians are reported to have been killed in a confrontation with Uzbek security forces.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said an international role in an inquiry into the Andijon violence is essential, and she turned down an Uzbek invitation for the United States to send observers to a commission of inquiry to be conducted by the Uzbek parliament.
Ms. Rice discussed the Uzbekistan situation Tuesday with Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva, whose government has had to deal with the arrival of hundreds of Uzbeks who fled into the neighboring state after the Andijon violence.
Spokesman McCormack said Secretary Rice expressed disappointment that Kyrgyz authorities late last week sent four Uzbek asylum seekers back home, action that U.N. officials and the group Human Rights Watch said violated Kyrgyzstan's obligations under international law:
"We're disappointed by the Kyrgyz government's decision on Friday to turn over four Uzbek individuals, who had registered as asylum-seekers, to Uzbek authorities without consultation with the representatives of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and without careful review of whether those people might be persecuted upon their return to Uzbekistan," Mr. McCormack said.
Mr. McCormack said the Secretary and her Kyrgyz counterpart discussed Uzbek refugees still in Kyrgyzstan, and said the minister pledged that her government will cooperate closely with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on their status.
Uzbekistan had been pressing its eastern neighbor to return a number of individual refugees, including 12 men who broke out jail in Andijon in an incident that triggered the broader unrest May 13.
Uzbekistan has been a U.S. ally in the war on terrorism and has given the United States use of an airbase for operations in Afghanistan.
Some human rights advocates have accused the Bush administration of giving the airbase priority over rights concerns.
Spokesman McCormack said U.S. strategic and democracy objectives in the region are indivisible, and said the base at Karshi-Khanabad has been used to assist democracy-building in Afghanistan.