President Bush met in private Tuesday with Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Earlier in the day the United States and Uzbekistan signed a series of agreements that could have a big impact on relations between the two countries.
The Bush administration is facing a delicate dilemma in its dealings with Uzbekistan. It is a key ally in the war on terrorism. It is also a nation with a troubled human rights record.
Both issues came up during the Uzbek president's meetings in Washington. At the State Department, Spokesman Richard Boucher briefed reporters on the results of Mr. Karimov's discussions with Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"The Secretary thanked President Karimov for his country's firm and resolute support for Operation Enduring Freedom. He also reiterated the United States commitment to building a long-term relationship with Uzbekistan and the other countries of central Asia. The Secretary stressed to President Karimov that the regions long-term security and stability are inextricably linked to the need to strengthen human rights and democratic institutions," Richard Boucher said.
One of the five agreements signed during the Uzbek leader's visit to Washington deals with the sort of cooperation envisioned by the secretary of state. It emphasizes the joint commitment of Uzbekistan and the United States to the security and stability of central Asia. It also commits the Uzbek goverment to implement political and economic reforms.
Richard Boucher was asked if the Bush administration is convinced President Karimov will follow through. "He indicated that he was serious about the agreement that he signed and looked forward to our help in implementing it," he said.
Mr. Boucher said the United States is not looking for permanent bases in Uzbekistan, but is interested in a long-term relationship that has many facets, including security. He stressed the Bush administration wants to see progress on human rights, and is looking for positive steps.