Azerbaijan, Baku, Aug. 17 / Trend V. Zhavoronkova /
One of the main goals of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake's visit to Uzbekistan was to explore the real position of Uzbekistan, concerning the country's participation in international military organizations, the U.S. expert on Central Asia Bruce Pannier believes.
Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake Jr. has been to Tashkent, Uzbekistan from August 15 to 18. According to the report, in Tashkent, Assistant Secretary Blake will lead the U.S. delegation for the third United States-Uzbekistan Annual Bilateral Consultations.
The expert said Blake's presence in Tashkent at that time reinforces the U.S. interest in boosting trade relations with Uzbekistan.
"But, of course every visit by a U.S. official to Uzbekistan for more than a decade now has focused on the situation in Afghanistan and Blake was in Uzbekistan for several days, surely to discuss security issues", Pannier, an expert of Radio Liberty, told Trend on Friday.
He added, this time Blake wanted to know more about the recently adopted bill in the lower house of parliament that sets out new foreign policy rules - namely, that Uzbekistan will not be a part of any military blocs and will not allow foreign military bases on its territory.
"The bill is certain to pass when it comes to the Senate at the end of the month and then be signed by President Karimov," Pannier said.
The analyst believes many foreign players now want to know what it means.
"Uzbekistan did just withdraw from the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization and it was known for the last few years one of the disagreements Tashkent had with the CSTO was the organization's plans for a rapid reaction force, to include troops from all the member countries, to be deployed in any member country under threat," he said.
Blake would probably be interested in hearing Uzbek officials, President Karimov first of all, explain the motive or logic from withdrawing from the CSTO again, Pannier said.
Uzbekistan already did so in 1999, and then it returned back.
"And the big question is what this new policy means for the base the Germans use at Termez and the Navoi airport the U.S. uses to refuel as well as the Northern Distribution Network into Afghanistan," he added.
The drawdown the U.S. and NATO say will be completed by 2014 never meant all the foreign troops were leaving Afghanistan and those foreign forces that do remain will still need to be re-supplied, expert mentioned.
"Uzbekistan is key to resupplying those forces since the best railway link through Central Asia to Afghanistan goes through Uzbekistan," Pannier said.
He added that the good news for the U.S. is that this bill establishing new boundaries for military alliances appears to be very flexible.
"The bill, as I understand it, does not preclude Uzbekistan from entering into a military alliance or allowing foreign forces to use Uzbekistan's military facilities but it does say Uzbekistan is not bound by any agreement that becomes, in Tashkent's view, disadvantageous to Uzbekistan," the analyst said.
Uzbekistan can renounce any alliance or military agreement at a moment's notice, he added.
As for future U.S.-Uzbek relations I think will remain at least as good as they are now for the next few years, Pannier added.
"Both countries need each other currently; the U.S because of supplying Afghanistan and Uzbekistan because it just aggravated ties with Russia by withdrawing from the CSTO and now needs a great power as an ally," he said.
An important question now, the expert added, is what happens if the situation in Afghanistan becomes much worse after the 2014 drawdown and problems start spilling over the border into Central Asia.
"How much help could the U.S. be to Uzbekistan in such a situation and would it make more sense for Uzbekistan to mend ties with Russia and seek Moscow's help to shore up security problems, is not clear," Pannier said.