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Uzbek president in Washington: What did they promise and what asked for?

The results of the recent visit of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Washington fit well into the multi-vector nonaligned foreign policy announced by Uzbekistan during the last meeting of the UN General Assembly.

The Uzbek authorities have qualified the visit as “historical” and “opening a new era in the Uzbek-U.S. partnership.” The Americans are satisfied to see that the C5+1 program is not an obstacle to “personal” contacts with the Central Asian nations even though sometimes those contacts may be contrary to “collective” interests.

In this light, it was quite interesting to hear Uzbekistan say that now that it has adopted a defense doctrine, it is interested in enlarging its military-technical cooperation with other countries, including the United States, particularly, in exchanging experience in defense and security. At the same time, Uzbekistan has made it clear that there must be no foreign military bases in its territory – something many Eurasian states were happy to hear.

Experts note that when the Americans launched their “war against terrorism” in 2001, they rented the Karshi-Khanabad military base in Uzbekistan, but after the events in Andijan in 2005, Uzbek President of that time Islam Karimov refused to prolong the contract even though he was not against military-technical cooperation with the Americans.

New Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is of the same opinion. According to the Uzbek authorities, during Mirziyoyev’s visit, U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed the United States’ support for Uzbekistan’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is certainly far from Washington’s true aspirations in the region.

Trump acknowledged Uzbekistan’s huge progress in implementing crucial political, economic and social reforms but pointed out some problems related to human rights protection. For tactical reasons, the U.S. President has put in the drawer the reports by Reporters Without Frontiers, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

After all, what was the reason for him to spoil such a “historical” visit if his Uzbek colleague assured him that the reforms in Uzbekistan were irreversible? As a result, the sides have refreshed their strategic partnership declaration.

According to experts, the short-term benefit for the Americans will be the support for the so-called Northern Distribution Network, a route they use for sending cargoes to NATO troops in Afghanistan. It is vital for the Americans to stay in Afghanistan as this is a way for them to have influence on Central Asia. Now that the United States has fallen out with Pakistan, Central Asia is becoming vital for it.

Until recently Pakistan was the key route for cargoes going to Afghanistan. Now priority has been given to the Northern Distribution Network – the territories of Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

For obvious reasons, the Americans are going to exclude Russia from this route, so, their focus now will be on Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The Kazakh authorities have already ratified an agreement allowing the Americans to use the ports of Kuryk and Aqtau for transporting their cargoes.

Experts note that Mirziyoyev visited the Pentagon, where he discussed prospects of military-technical cooperation with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis. The latter called Uzbekistan a strategic state in the region and confirmed Washington’s commitment to develop relations with all Central Asian nations.

Economy was also on the agenda. And even though the Americans showed no special interest in it, the sides have signed as many as ten memorandums of intention. The Americans are not very eager to invest in Uzbekistan and their argument is that the country has no sufficient guarantees for investors. The Uzbek authorities claim the opposite.

According to experts, the only big U.S. investor in the Uzbek economy is General Motors, which has a car producing JV in Uzbekistan. In order to protect the local car production, the Uzbek authorities have imposed high customs duties on imported cars.

Among other significant documents are the agreement between Uzbekenergo and General Electric Gas Power Services, the agreement to localize maintenance of General Electric turbomachinery in Uzbekistan and the agreement between Jizzakh Petroleum and Honeywell UOP to building an oil refinery in Jizzakh region.

In trade and industry, mass media point out the agreement between Trade and Silverleafe Capital to create an agricultural cluster in Jizzakh region and the agreement to export Uzbek dried fruits and textile to the United States.

Experts note that even though the sides have signed lots of documents, we should not expect a breakthrough in their commercial and economic ties. This is just a framework for future measures and each side has its own goals here: while Uzbekistan needs investments and industrial growth, the United States needs stronger positions in the region.

In any case, Washington is not going to lose grounds in Uzbekistan, at least, because Russia and China are also active there. As regards Mirziyoyev, he does not look very eager here as he perfectly knows that this is a big threat to his country’s sovereignty and future.

Viktor Khinov, political analyst

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