US envoy vows Central Asia `commitment` after Afghanistan exit

Last Updated: Thursday, May 8, 2014 - 00:21

Tashkent: The United States will remain committed and engaged in Central Asia after this year`s troop pullout from Afghanistan, US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said in ex-Soviet Uzbekistan on Wednesday.

"My message is straightforward: America`s commitment to Central Asia and to Uzbekistan is enduring because America`s interest in Central Asia and in Uzbekistan are enduring," Burns told reporters in Tashkent.

"We cannot afford to neglect the significance of this region and we cannot afford to neglect what`s at stake," he said after a meeting with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov.

"So the United States is not going to anywhere," Burns said. 

Burns said discussions with Uzbek officials focused on the US drawdown in Afghanistan as well as American concerns about Russia`s "aggressive and provocative actions" in Ukraine, looking at "how much these developments can affect other countries such as Uzbekistan."

Uzbekistan, Central Asia`s most populous country, shares a 100-kilometre-long border with northern Afghanistan and a rail link to the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, making it a key hub for the transfer of non-lethal goods to Afghanistan.

Burns said Uzbekistan has played a crucial role in facilitating the Northern Distribution Network supply route to forces in Afghanistan but added that there were "challenges" in terms of its human rights record. 
"We welcome the progress in some areas such as the dialogue between the (Uzbek) government and the International Labour Organisation about child labour," he said, referring to widespread reports by activists that Uzbekistan uses forced labour in its cotton industry.
"But many challenges obviously remain," said Burns, who is on a trip through the region and is set to visit Kazakhstan on Thursday. He met Uzbek President Islam Karimov later Wednesday.

AFP

First Published: Thursday, May 8, 2014 - 00:21

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