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William J. Burns, Deputy Secretary of State: Remarks at a Press Availability in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

7 May 2014

Good afternoon. I'm very pleased to be back in Tashkent at an important moment for Uzbekistan and Central Asia.

I look forward to seeing President Karimov again later today, and I had a productive meeting with Foreign Minister Kamilov this morning. We continued the very useful exchange we began in Washington last December during our Annual Bilateral Consultations and reviewed many aspects of our partnership, including regional issues of mutual concern. My message during this visit is straightforward: America's commitment to Central Asia and to Uzbekistan is enduring because America's interests in Central Asia and Uzbekistan are enduring.

The Minister and I discussed the situation in Ukraine and the state of Russian-American relations. We recognize how much these developments can affect other countries such as Uzbekistan, which has strong economic, cultural and political links with Russia. I thanked the Foreign Minister for Uzbekistan's constructive statements on the situation in Ukraine. We agreed on the need for all parties to work together cooperatively to de-escalate the crisis.

I emphasized our serious concerns, which are widely shared in the international community, about Russia's aggressive and provocative actions in Ukraine. I also emphasized that the United States does not seek confrontation with Russia - we believe that it is deeply in the interests of Ukraine and Russia to have a healthy relationship, born of their centuries of cultural, economic, and social ties. The same holds true for Russia's other neighbors, such as Uzbekistan, and for the United States. We too want a healthy relationship with Russia, based on mutual respect for international law and the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states.

Minister Kamilov and I also talked about the next steps in Afghanistan's transition. I thanked the Foreign Minister for Uzbekistan's crucial role over the years, particularly in facilitating the Northern Distribution Network. I emphasized that America's commitment to Afghanistan's stability and security will extend well beyond 2014, and that none of us can afford to neglect what's at stake in the years ahead for Afghanistan or the region.

The Foreign Minister and I discussed how best to preserve and build on the gains we've made, even as U.S. and international forces transition into a train and advise role. This includes enhancing regional economic connectivity through creating a regional energy market, improving trade and transport routes, streamlining customs and border operations, and connecting businesses and people. A New Silk Road is not meant to replace the historic trade and transportation corridors through Central Asia. It's meant to strengthen these corridors and build additional trade and economic links between Central and South Asia.

Finally, we had the opportunity to talk about the commercial, cultural, and educational ties at the heart of our relationship. My trip coincides with the first meeting of our bilateral Science and Technology Joint Committee - an example of how we are expanding our bilateral contacts into new areas as we work together to tackle shared challenges. But, as I told the Minister today and in previous meetings, achieving the full potential of our partnership, will require continued open, candid, and constructive dialogue about issues important to the United States and Uzbekistan such as respect for the rights of citizens - including freedom of expression, assembly, and association, ending forced labor, ensuring impartial justice, good governance and pursuing democratic reform. I remain firmly convinced that a more open and democratic society is a stronger society. That is true for my own country, and I believe it will be true for Uzbekistan as well in the years ahead.

Thank you very much for this opportunity. I look forward to taking a few of your questions.