Almaty: Uzbekistan's reclusive leader told a US envoy the Central Asian nation was determined to work more closely with the United States to help oust the Taliban from neighbouring Afghanistan.
Relations between Uzbekistan, long under fire over human rights violations, and the United States have improved in recent years as Washington has shifted focus more to security issues in its contacts with the former Soviet republic, diplomats say.
Uzbekistan now serves a vital supply route for NATO operations in Afghanistan and Western nations rarely voice strong criticism of its human rights or democratic record.
During his talks with US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, Uzbek President Islam Karimov said he was ready for more dialogue, state media reported late on Friday.
"The leader of our nation ... expressed Uzbekistan's firm determination to further develop US-Uzbek relations in a constructive way in light of efforts to bring lasting peace and stability to Afghanistan," the official UzA news agency said.
It quoted Holbrooke as telling Karimov that he too wanted to "strengthen cooperation with Uzbekistan over security".
Holbrooke, in Central Asia on his first visit in his current capacity, also visited Kyrgyzstan on Friday and was due to travel to Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan this weekend.
Contacts between Uzbekistan and the United States were virtually frozen for years after 2005, when Washington condemned the Central Asian nation for firing on protesters in the town of Andizhan. Witnesses said hundreds of people died in the event.
The improvement in ties has led analysts to suggest Washington may seek to reopen its air base in Uzbekistan, which was used for operations in Afghanistan but was closed by Karimov in retaliation for the US criticism of the Andizhan events.
The United States embassy in Tashkent declined to comment on whether the military base issue was discussed.
"Ambassador Holbrooke met with President Karimov to discuss a range of issues of mutual interest, including the international efforts in Afghanistan," it said in a brief statement.
First Published: Saturday, February 20, 2010, 14:02