Representative of U.S. Department of State about relations with Central Asian countries

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The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek hosted telephonic press briefing with Ambassador Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia and representatives of the leading media of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The topic of the conference was dedicated to the upcoming visit of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to the U.S., as well as to the cooperation of the countries of Central Asia and the United States.

In her welcoming remark, Ambassador Wells said that they looking forward to hosting President Nazarbayev next week in the United States.

“It really marks a major event in our expanding relationship between our two countries,” she said.

Ambassador Wells also said that President Nazarbayev will be meeting and having lunch with President Trump as well as having a separate meeting with the Vice-President, where Presidents will have a wide conversation on all of the issues of global affairs.

The Ambassador stressed that the strong partnership between Kazakhstan and USA have forged over the last 26 years, ranging from trade to investment, security, non-proliferation and education.

“I would just note that ever since 1991 we have strongly supported Kazakhstan’s emergence as a sovereign, independent and important regional and global power,” she said.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State added that when she was in Astana last month for Strategic Partnership Dialogue where they discussed a widening area of cooperation from Kazakhstan’s role as a global leader in nuclear non-proliferation to its support for our expanding economic and people-to-people.

She cited as an example the fact that in 2016, the American side provided grants worth about $3.3 million for U.S.-Kazakhstan educational exchange programs and cultural initiatives, English language training, and support for Kazakhstan to modernize its educational system.

Alice Wells said that she signed on Jan. 12 with the Kazakhstani Ambassador an Air Navigation Agreement that will facilitate greater official travel between the leaders of our executive and legislative branches.

“Some of the areas where we’ve seen Kazakhstan play this leadership role in the international community include hosting the Expo 2017 and convening the Central Asia Trade and Investment Framework Agreement council meeting last December; as well as in their role as the current chair of the United Nations* Security Council,” she said.

Ambassador Wells added that USA particularly appreciate Kazakhstan’s continuing support for Afghanistan’s stability.

She also added that USA sees that security partnership with Kazakhstan is playing a key role in supporting the safety and prosperity of our citizens. Wells said that they also appreciate cooperation between Justice Departments and law enforcement agencies of the two countries in countering violent extremism and preventing terrorist attacks.

“Kazakhstan also plays an important role in our new National Security Strategy that President Trump announced last month. Kazakhstan’s economic potential will help one of our key objectives of ensuring open and diverse global energy markets and promoting economic connectivity within Central Asia. As you know, U.S. investment in Kazakhstan by companies like Chevron and Exxon Mobil already totals over $25 billion, and we expect this number to substantially increase, not just in this sector but in more diversified areas,” she said stressing that it’s a honor to be hosting President Nazarbayev.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Ambassador Alice Wells further answered questions of journalists from leading media outlets of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Answering the question about whether the United States have a detailed vision of its further cooperation with Central Asian countries within the new U.S. National Security Strategy especially in light of Uzbekistan’s increasing activity on the world arena, Ambassador Alice Wells said that USA always was supporters of a strong and integrated Central Asia. “And under the South Asia Strategy we look to continue to promote the economic connectivity of the countries of Central Asia, which Uzbekistan’s recent opening allows for even more ambitious projects to take place,” she answered.

Ambassador Wells also added that with the countries of Central Asia USA has mutual strategic interests in promoting economic integration, in countering narcotics, countering terrorism, enhancing the stability of the region, and they have long believed that the future for Afghanistan is to be knit back into the region and to be a strong partner with the Central Asian countries.

"I would say another theme that has always characterized our policy towards the region is respect for and support for the sovereignty and independence and territorial integrity of all the countries of the region,” she added.

Answering the question about the cooperation within the C5+1 platform, Ambassador Wells said that USA finds this to be a very productive and constructive format.

“And while it as launched under a previous administration, it has been endorsed and embraced by the administration of President Trump,” she replied adding that Secretary Tillerson met with the C5+1 in New York, met with the Foreign Ministers and committed to holding a meeting of the C5+1 in Central Asia.

“Separately, of course, we’ve also received congressional support for this initiative with $15 million allocated for projects to reinforce this forum,” she said.

Ambassador Wells expressed satisfaction with Uzbekistan’s renewed interest in building stronger relations in the region and its efforts to resolve outstanding issues with its neighbors.

“I think we’re very pleased to see the countries of Central Asia naturally come together, given the range of interests that unite them, whether it’s energy cooperation, trade or security,” she said..

Wells said that USA as quite struck when President Ghani went to Uzbekistan and in his public remarks said Afghanistan is a Central Asian country. “So I think the next area to look at is to see what are going to be the natural cooperation that will take place between the C5 and Afghanistan,” she added.

To the questions, does she feel that the main issue of cooperation, or the main source of cooperation between the U.S. and Kazakhstan is still Kazakh oil, Ambassador Wells answered that she has never thought that the main issue of cooperation between the two countries is oil.

She said that economic relations are, of course, vitally important and they provide ballast to any political relationship. But she thinks that from the very beginning Kazakhstan has achieved a global leadership role because of its principal position on nuclear non-proliferation, the foreign policy course that it has chartered, including of course its support for regional security and support for Afghanistan.

She believes that President Nazarbayev’s leadership in developing Kazakhstan. “The programs like Bolashak which created linkages between Kazakhstan and the West. So again, I think Kazakhstan’s foreign policy and its significance on the world stage is multi-dimensional, with economics just being one but not the only foundation,” Alice Wells said.

Answering the question how does the U.S. government assess the situation with the freedom of speech in Kyrgyzstan linked to multi-million-dollar lawsuits against local journalists, Ambassador Wells said that USA believes that freedom of press is a fundamental element of any democracy, and around the world the United States supports media freedom. “Historically the Kyrgyz Republic has long been a leader in press freedoms in Central Asia, and any measures that limit press freedoms cast a shadow on that reputation. So we continue to encourage this essential institution, media, both to bring transparency as well as to assist governments as they formulate policies. That will continue to be our position,” she replied.

The Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State said that USA will continue conversations with Kazakhstan on how to achieve greater economic diversification which is a key goal of the Kazakhstani government answering the question what questions in the economic and trade sphere and also on energy cooperation will be discussed between the Presidents of the United States and Kazakhstan during the visit of the Kazakh President to Washington.

“From our perspective, we continue to encourage improvements in the business environment so that more foreign direct investment can be attracted to Kazakhstan,” she said.

Ambassador Wells said that American investors, when they’re making decisions about where to invest overseas, often will look at the success or failure of existing foreign companies in a country. “That’s why we place such a great importance on resolving outstanding issues related to intellectual property rights or the sanctity of contracts,” she said.

Alice Wells highlighted that American businesses have been among the world’s biggest investors in Central Asia, which is the enormous potential. She also appreciated Kazakhstan’s leadership in hosting Central Asia Trade Forum. “These annual conversations that recently also produced an initiative on intellectual property, which again, we think is going to be key to increasing investment in Kazakhstan and Central Asia,” she said.

Answering the question how important is it for the U.S. to identify a country in the region of Central Asia as the leader of the region, Ambassador Wells replied that she doesn’t think it’s the role of the United States to choose leaders.

“I think countries assume leadership. And over the last 26 years we certainly have seen the government of Kazakhstan with the guidance of President Nazarbayev playing a leadership role in many critical areas,” she added.

According to her words, USA continues to encourage that and works with all of the countries of Central Asia, a very critical region to efforts in Afghanistan as well, to step up, to seize opportunities for economic connectivity, for cooperation in security so that to bring stability to the region and help stitch Afghanistan back into the region.

“We anticipate, without a doubt, that President Nazarbayev and the Kazakhstani officials with whom we work on a daily basis will continue to see and want to forge Kazakhstan’s leadership role in all of these areas,” she said.

He asks, there is a belief that the Trump administration is not interested in Kyrgyzstan, one of the Central Asian states. On the other hand, Kyrgyzstan has closed its U.S. base and ended its cooperation agreement with Washington.

To the last question what interest does the U.S. have in Central Asia, in particular, in Kyrgyzstan, Ambassador Wells, thanking for the question said that over the past again 26 years, the United States government has invested approximately $2 billion in Kyrgyzstan to support what has really been our overarching goal, the success of the Kyrgyz Republic as a secure and prosperous and democratic state. “And we are going to continue to seek a relationship with Kyrgyzstan that’s based on trust, quality and mutual respect,” she said.

Ambassador Wells said that the two countries have differences, all countries do, but USA is committed to strengthening a long and productive partnership with the Kyrgyz Republic.

“We continue to share, I think, very core interests regarding stability, security and prosperity, and we see the Kyrgyz Republic’s future very much a part of a vibrant and successful Central Asia. So we’re committed to the relationship and we’ll look for ways under the new leadership to find opportunities to build on what has been a historic friendship. Again, I think the Kyrgyz Republic really distinguished itself in the peaceful and orderly presidential elections that took place, and we look forward to partnering with President Jeenbekov, the Ambassador Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia concluded.

Ermek Abdrisaev

Kabar News Agency

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