S E C R E T TASHKENT 000323 E.O. 12958: DECL: 2034-03-18 TAGS: PREL, MARR, PGOV, PHUM, PINR, UZ SUBJECT: At Times Angry Karimov Says Afghan Transit Can Continue, Seeks "Cooperative Approach" with U.S. on Democratization REF: TASHKENT 281 STATE 24316 07 TASHKENT 2026 (NOTAL) CLASSIFIED BY: Richard B. Norland, Ambassador; REASON: 1.4(B), (D) 1. (S) Summary.
President Karimov told the Ambassador March 18 that his earlier understanding with General Petraeus regarding commercial transit of non-lethal cargo through Uzbekistan to Afghanistan remains in place, despite Karimov's evident embarrassment at the public recognition accorded human rights activist Mutabar Tadjibaeva during the March 11 "women of courage" event in Washington, which he believes had a political agenda aimed at him. He expressed a desire to work with the U.S. on democratization and human rights in Uzbekistan but asked that we adopt an approach that avoids public "pressure," which he termed counter-productive. He warned that Russia is trying to make itself the sole gatekeeper on Afghanistan, and urged us to acknowledge the key role that Uzbekistan plays on rail transit into Afghanistan. Interestingly, officials around Karimov seem to grasp that their president over-reacted to this event and appear anxious to keep relations on track. We need to seize the opportunity to engage with these officials in a more structured dialogue sooner rather than later if we are to advance a comprehensive agenda with this key regional player. Meanwhile, we intend to resume our dialogue with MFA on finalizing our transit agreement (ref B). End Summary.
2. (S) Following Foreign Minister Norov's icy March 13 demarche to the Ambassador on Tadjibaeva (ref A), the Ambassador requested a meeting with President Karimov to seek clarification of Norov's implicit threat to suspend transit of cargo for U.S. forces in Afghanistan via the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). Karimov received the Ambassador for an hour and a half on March 18, with Norov in attendance. As the meeting wore on, it became clear that Karimov -- alternately angry, cajoling, mocking and wise -- wanted to vent but did not intend to pull the plug on U.S.-Uzbek cooperation.
3. (S) Karimov began by asking the Ambassador to explain the "women of courage" event and what was meant by presenting the award to Tadjibaeva at such a high-profile occasion. The Ambassador described what the event was and what it was not: it was intended to recognize the accomplishments of individual women in advancing international human rights, to which Secretary Clinton and First Lady Obama were personally committed and which occupied a high place on the U.S. policy agenda. It was not the product of any overall U.S. policy review of Central Asia or Uzbekistan, as this review was still in progress, nor was it intended to single out Uzbekistan or suggest that we endorsed any opposition political group or agenda. In fact, the Ambassador said, Tadjibaeva was someone who advocated engagement with the authorities rather than sanctions or isolation as a way to advance human rights, a view which had earned her criticism from some human rights groups at home and abroad.
4. (S) Karimov called this description "superficial" and said the event seemed to represent "old thinking." He criticized the previous Administration's foreign policy and said he had been waiting to see where the new Administration was headed. He recognized that the economic crisis required immediate attention to domestic affairs, but he was confident that the U.S. economic system was resilient enough to right itself. Meanwhile, the March 11 event, with its high profile "PR" content, had damaged trust between the U.S. and Uzbekistan. He had sought in 2007 to re-start relations with the U.S. from a "clean slate," focused on "step-by-step" efforts to build trust based on mutual respect rather than pressure or "instruction" from abroad. But recognizing Tadjibaeva in such a prominent way was a mistake. Calling her a "swindler," he accused Tadjibaeva of cohabitating with an Interior Ministry official and betraying other activists. He seemed especially angry that Tadjibaeva might be seen as a political figure in her own right being cultivated to challenge him. Calming down, he finally took the tack that Tadjibaeva did not deserve much attention at all, which was why she had been released in the first place last year in a step designed to meet the U.S. halfway. "Put yourself in my place," he asked plaintively -- "would you trust me if I had done this?" The Ambassador reiterated that this event was an opportunity to inspire women around the world but it would be a mistake to view it as the sum total of U.S. policy on Uzbekistan; the U.S. remained interested in finding ways to build trust with Uzbekistan and make effective progress on the full range of issues.
5. (S) Saying he would take the Ambassador's comments under advisement, Karimov turned to a lambasting of Russian policy in the region. He accused President Medvedev of aggressively seeking to restore a Russian sphere of influence in the Near Abroad and pointed to an event at the Russian Ministry of Defense yesterday at which Medvedev and the Russian defense minister reportedly declared an intention to confront NATO in the region. He accused Russia of seeking to stoke conflicts that its CSTO rapid reaction force could then move in to resolve (including in Georgia, where he did not rule out a clash this spring), and he said forcefully that Uzbekistan would have no part in such efforts to "militarize" the region.
He also accused the Russians of seeking to control Central Asia's water supplies. The relevance of his tirade became clear when he urged the U.S. not to alienate Uzbekistan given its key role in standing up to Russian ambitions. However, he went on to plead for closer cooperation with the U.S. on human rights and democratization -- "we need your help, I want Uzbekistan to be a flourishing, democratic country." Such help just should not come in the form of "diktats" or pressure, which was "counterproductive," he said.
6. (S) Addressing Afghan transit, Karimov pointed to NDN test shipments that had just reached Afghanistan and criticized the Russians for acting as if the "door" to Afghanistan was their door. He pointed to Russian FM Lavrov's visit to Kabul as an example of efforts, in advance of the SCO conference on Afghanistan in Moscow later this month, to make the U.S. and NATO believe that "all the keys to Afghanistan lie in Moscow." He claimed that Russia had decided Karzai should stay in office (curiously, Karimov said he was giving us this information "for free, but it cost a lot" -- implying perhaps it came from intelligence sources).
He made a half-hearted pitch for his "6 plus 3" negotiating format on Afghanistan, and praised us for plans to bring Iran into discussions on next steps in Afghanistan. Finally, he confirmed a couple of times that the understandings he had reached with General Petraeus in January remained in effect, but he urged us to remember the key role Uzbekistan plays -- "don't thank Russia" (he claimed that former President Bush had thanked then-President Putin for the fact that Uzbekistan had put the K-2 air base at U.S. disposal in 2002).
7. (S) Ambassador's Comment: Clearly Karimov was concerned that the U.S. had made a policy decision to abandon cooperation with him. Equally clearly, pressuring him (especially publicly) could cost us transit through Uzbekistan into Afghanistan, not to mention the ability to engage on human rights and other issues.
What is most interesting is that senior staff around him appear to be letting on to us (for the first time) that they know his behavior can harm Uzbek interests and even contradict those positions which he himself espouses. We should seize this opportunity to engage with these officials in a more structured dialogue. The approach of working around Karimov at the margins (see ref C - 07 TASHKENT 2026 NOTAL) may be galling in the face of his intransigence, but ultimately it is likely to get us further on issues across-the-board pending the political succession that inevitably will occur here one of these days. Meanwhile, we intend to convey ref B response to the latest Uzbek proposal on the exchange of letters regarding Afghan transit (NDN) shortly. NORLAND
16. (C) Rather than isolating government officials, we should be seeking to further engage and identify potential reformers. While opaque, the Uzbek government is not monolithic, and is composed of many different competing groups, some of them are more pro-Western than others. President Karimov is not going to be around forever, and we need to be in a position to have influence with whatever group comes to power after the dust settles. We also have the opportunity to strengthen the hand of potential pro-Western reformers through greater direct contact with them.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 TASHKENT 001271 SIPDIS DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/CEN AMEMBASSY ASTANA PASS TO USOFFICE ALMATY AMEMBASSY HELSINKI PASS TO AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PASS TO AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PASS TO AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/07/22 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, MARR, PHUM, RS, AF, UZ SUBJECT: Uzbekistan: Under Secretary Burns' July 13 Meeting with Uzbek President Karimov REF: TASHKENT 903 CLASSIFIED BY: Holly Lindquist Thomas, Pol/Econ Officer, State, Pol-Econ; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)
1. (C) Summary. In a wide-ranging meeting that lasted over three hours, President Karimov affirmed to Under Secretary Burns his desire to turn the page on U.S.-Uzbek relations and work together to restore trust based on mutual interests and mutual respect. Citing Afghanistan as Uzbekistan's greatest security concern, Karimov looked to the U.S. - rather than Russia - to bring stability to that country. Karimov dwelled obsessively on Russian "imperial ambitions" in Central Asia and warned the U.S. not to "make deals with Russia behind our backs." The Uzbek President welcomed President Obama's determination not to impose U.S. values on other countries and indicated he was willing to cooperate on certain issues involving reform and human rights. Provided the U.S. did not put political prisoner Sanjar Umarov up on a political pedestal were he released, Karimov even suggested he would be willing to "urge" the Uzbek Senate to amnesty Umarov. End Summary.
2. (C) Under Secretary Bill Burns was accompanied by Special Assistant to the President and NSC Senior Director for Russia and Eurasia Michael McFaul, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense David Sedney and Ambassador Norland. President Karimov was joined by Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov and National Security Council Secretary Murat Ataev. Karimov spoke in Russian with occasional translation into English to emphasize a point. Karimov appeared healthy though as the meeting wore on his skin appeared a little mottled. He spoke fluidly and at great length, occasionally drifting down a particular tangent but usually returning to his main theme. Karimov clearly enjoyed the opportunity to expound his views before the most senior American civilian delegation to visit Tashkent in nearly four years. Afghanistan ---------------
3. (C) Karimov alternated between heavy emphasis on the situation in Afghanistan and relations with Russia - as well as the interplay between the two. But he began his lengthy monologue with a review of the "trust deficit" that developed in relations with the U.S. after 9/11. He reminded us that Uzbekistan had taken decisive steps to support the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and launch the "domino strategy" that toppled the Taliban. As he has done before, he made the point that the U.S. did not show sufficient appreciation for Uzbek support. Rather than dwelling on this, however, Karimov emphasized the Soviet role in launching thirty years of warfare in Afghanistan, saying the Central Committee of the Communist Party sought to make Afghanistan the "sixteenth republic" of the USSR. Karimov criticized the "War on Terror" for alienating potential allies in the Muslim world, but he kept returning to the question of whether Russia was in fact a worthy partner and really shared our interest in a stable Afghanistan. On the contrary, Karimov claimed, Russia did not want Uzbekistan or Central Asia to have access to the ports and markets of Iran and South Asia which peace in Afghanistan would grant. Nor did Russia want U.S. investment capital to come to Afghanistan, which would also be a result of peace.
4. (C) Karimov observed that Afghanistan was President Obama's top foreign policy priority. He repeated his analysis (reftel) that any Contact Group should not include India, the Gulf States, Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan, but rather should be strictly limited to Afghanistan's six immediate neighbors. Pakistan should be part of the Contact Group, but it should not be the "object" of the Group's discussions as it was too big and too complicated. In TASHKENT 00001271 002 OF 005 effect, Karimov laid out the "six plus three" formula that he first expounded at the Bucharest Summit in March 2008, featuring the six neighbors plus the U.S., Russia and NATO. A slightly new twist was his acknowledgment that the Afghan government was a key player ("of course, the central government is the central government"). But this concession to our concerns about GOA involvement in any 6 plus 3 formula was offset by his analysis that the central government would be no stronger after the upcoming elections (which the "feckless" Karzai would win) than it was before. Karimov urged us not to put all our eggs in one basket, but rather to somehow treat the Afghan government as "neutral" and try to establish consensus among the warring parties. The longer foreign forces remained in Afghanistan, he warned, "the more likely you will be seen as occupiers." He praised the decision to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq and encouraged us to do the same in Afghanistan.
5. (C) "The way out of Afghanistan," Karimov advised, was to focus on developing the more peaceful northern part of the country. He had discussed this idea with visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos, but did not think the Spanish had enough clout to make a difference in Baghdis province. Rather, the U.S. should "replace" the Germans in Balkh province (sic), develop the rail link between Hairaton and Mazar-e-sharif, and focus on economic development over military operations. This would prevent Iran from achieving its goal of dominating Mazar-e-sharif, he said. Karimov appeared pleased by U/S Burns' statement that the U.S. would support Asian Development Bank financing of the Hairaton to Mazar railway. Russia --------
6. (C) Karimov considered the April 3 U.S.-Uzbek agreement on commercial transit of non-lethal goods to Afghanistan as an important, logical step following talks with CENTCOM commander Gen. Petraeus and TRANSCOM commander Gen. McNabb. He was more cautious regarding the agreement signed between the U.S. and Russia last week on lethal transit. While he agreed that what Russia was offering was no doubt an important transit option, he emphasized Russia's desire merely to appear helpful and warned us not to trust the Russians. When all was distilled, the Russian contribution would turn out to be far less than appeared to be the case. He himself had only reluctantly partnered with Russia in 2005, after the Andijon events and the ensuing "information war" launched by the West "forced" him to turn to Moscow and Beijing for support.
7. (C) Karimov strongly denounced Russian goals in the former USSR. He accused Russia of creating the Collective Security Treaty Organization to serve as the "anti-NATO," and said the proposed CSTO rapid reaction force had only three goals: to enable Russia to dominate the former Soviet space, to provide multi-national cover for Russian forces to attack problem countries like Georgia or Ukraine, and to station Russian forces permanently in Central Asia. He expressed concern about Russia's approach to Kyrgyzstan on establishing a new military base in Osh, saying this was a primarily ethnic Uzbek community only 40 kilometers from Andijon. As he did reftel, Karimov accused the Russians of planning suicide bombings from Kyrgyz territory, saying that the May 27 attack in Andijon was a "signal" to Uzbekistan: "if you don't join the CSTO rapid reaction force, there will be more such attacks." Nevertheless, Karimov reiterated his determination that Uzbekistan would not sign on to the rapid reaction force. Describing blunt exchanges with Russian Prime Minister Putin, President Medvedev and Foreign Minister Lavrov, Karimov said he accused Russia of seeking to reestablish a zone of "privileged interest." Why, he said he asked them, does Russia treat Finland as an independent country but TASHKENT 00001271 003 OF 005 not Uzbekistan? Russia's biggest problem remained its "imperial ambitions," he charged, along with racist "chauvinism" exhibited toward ethnic minorities.
8. (C) However Karimov took umbrage at press reports suggesting that the U.S. had said it had "no differences" with Russia on Central Asia. "On what basis do you say this," he asked suspiciously. He warned the U.S. not to "make deals behind our backs." U/S Burns and McFaul pointed to President Obama's statements in Moscow strongly refuting the idea of any zone of privileged influence. "That is why we are here today," Burns said. Karimov accepted that mistranslation may have led to misunderstanding on his part of the U.S. position.
9. (C) Karimov accused Russia of trying to buy off the Kyrgyz in order to kick the U.S. out of the airbase at Manas, saying he knew "for a fact" that it was Putin's idea (the Kyrgyz prime minister was Putin's "agent," Karimov claimed). While the Kyrgyz might go along with the U.S. for a while, the Russians would continue upping the ante. He encouraged us not to engage in a bidding war, "even though this is against my interests." He said Medvedev would attend the July 28 CSTO meeting in Kyrgyzstan, if for no other reason than to celebrate President Bakiev's birthday. Karimov suggested the Russian goal in pressing the U.S. on Manas had been to trade Russian acceptance of a base at Manas for U.S. willingness to give up plans for missile defense involving the Czech Republic and Poland. "The Russians will try again" on Manas, he predicted. In contrast to Kyrgyzstan's "wheeling and dealing," Karimov considered Turkmenistan, although neutral, "ready enough for a positive approach" on support for Coalition efforts in Afghanistan.
10. (C) The only guarantee of Russian "common sense," Karimov said, was a continued low price of oil. Karimov caricatured Putin as earlier being besotted by 150 dollar per barrel oil, and expressed satisfaction at the economic difficulties now facing Russia as a result of the global economic crisis. Likewise, he trivialized Medvedev's claim to be speaking for the Commonwealth of Independent States countries at the G-8 gathering in London this past spring. Especially after what happened in Georgia, Karimov said, Russia would have a hard time ever again speaking for the CIS (which existed "in name only"). Relations with U.S. -----------------------
11. (C) Under Secretary Burns said he was very glad to have visited Tashkent. Everything President Karimov had said reinforced two points. First, the need for a realistic long-term strategy in Central Asia and Afghanistan, based on existing realities. Second, the importance of rebuilding trust. U.S. and Uzbek national interests intersected in many respects, he said. President Obama had made clear the U.S. aimed to listen to others and operate on the basis of mutual respect. Burns said he had listened carefully and had great respect for what Karimov said. Much had changed in the seventeen years since his last visit, and he respected Uzbekistan's economic achievements. While it was easy to talk of a fresh start in U.S.-Uzbek relations, it was harder to actually do this. The U.S. wanted to work together with Uzbekistan to make this a reality. TASHKENT 00001271 004 OF 005
12. (C) On Afghanistan, Burns said, it was true that there were more questions than answers, just as it was true that there was no purely military solution. Uzbekistan had contributed much and could do yet more. We looked forward to working in detail on the ideas Karimov had outlined. We also wanted to do more on bilateral relations, especially in the economic sphere. The progress with General Motors was a good example of practical results stemming from such cooperation. We hoped that Ex-Im Bank might be able to provide some support for the sale of aircraft manufactured using American parts at the Tapoich plant in Tashkent.
13. (C) President Obama had no intention of imposing U.S. values on other societies, Burns said, nor would we be delivering lectures. We wanted to work pragmatically together on the basis of practical, mutual interests. We had to bear in mind that human rights issues will remain a priority for the U.S. Administration and Congress. We would seek to work together step-by-step on humanitarian issues, and Ambassador Norland would be following up on several items that had been raised in the previous day's meeting with FM Norov. As Karimov himself had suggested, Burns said, in the end "we will have to judge each other by our actions and not just by our words."
14. (C) McFaul emphasized President Obama's pragmatic approach, and observed that the U.S. and Uzbekistan had a number of common interests. The U.S. would approach Russia pragmatically, rejecting any notion of spheres of influence. McFaul noted that he had personally witnessed President Obama telling Putin that spheres were a nineteenth, not a twenty-first century idea. He had also heard Obama, in April in London, reject the idea proposed by Medvedev that the U.S. approach Central Asia "via" Moscow. The U.S. had negotiated directly with Kygyzstan to restore access to Manas, rather than take up an offer of Russian "help." We would not approach Central Asia through Moscow, but we would seek to pursue concrete interests that we might have in common with Russia - and this would be the U.S. approach toward Uzbekistan as well.
15. (C) Karimov called the U.S. the most important country in the world, saying that recovery of the U.S. economy was essential to global economic stability. He downplayed China's economic importance, saying it relied too much on exports (to the U.S.), and reiterated his assessment (reftel) that the "sustainable" U.S. economy would rebound. He called for more U.S. investment in Uzbekistan, and pointed out that much of the financing for GM's new powertrain plant in Tashkent came from Uzbekistan itself. Uzbekistan needed American "know-how." (In another swipe at the Russians, Karimov said he told Medvedev that Russian investments were too heavily concentrated in the gas sector - "doesn't anything else interest you?" he reportedly asked the Russian president.) Sanjar Umarov ------------------
16. (C) Karimov emphasized his desire to re-start U.S.-Uzbek relations "from a clean slate," as was currently unfolding, and said he did not wish to recall that period when "due to bad decisions we stopped understanding one another." He congratulated President Obama on his successful outreach to the Muslim world. Uzbekistan did not reject human rights, he added, but neither was it trying to impose democracy "too quickly" as this would be counter-productive. He recognized that some in Congress would hang on to "old stereotypes" but bristled at the idea of Congressmen "dictating" to Uzbekistan how it should behave. Karimov said he TASHKENT 00001271 005 OF 005 saw a potential contradiction between President Obama's words and U.S. efforts to raise human rights cases such as that of Sanjar Umarov. Likewise, the public acclaim surrounding the "woman of courage" award to Mutabar Tadjibaeva, with Secretary Clinton and Mrs. Obama in attendance, appeared to represent unwarranted interference. In an intriguing suggestion that he might consider releasing Umarov, Karimov asked rhetorically what guarantee there was that Umarov would not be "made a hero, too?" He emphasized that it was counter-productive to pressure him on this, but raised the possibility that if there were a guarantee that there would be "no demonstrations" and he would not be made a hero, "I would not refuse that." Since the Senate decided on amnesties, it would be a matter of the President forwarding a "proposal" to the Senate - but, Karimov smiled, "I think they respect me enough to accept this."
17. (C) Karimov thanked Burns and McFaul for their open and frank remarks. "You understand that the twenty-first century is not the nineteenth century." Still, deeds counted more than words, and concrete actions would serve as the best proof of sincerity. He proposed we pursue cooperation on this basis. Uzbekistan's national interests were his only concern and "unlike some of my neighbors, we deliver what we promise." Making the unusual gesture of walking U/S Burns to the car, Karimov said he was pleased with the meeting and asked Burns to reemphasize to President Obama that Uzbekistan genuinely wanted a fresh start in relations. On human rights issues, Karimov repeated his hint that we could work together on Sanjar Umarov, and agreed to U/S Burns' suggestion that the GOU work with Ambassador Norland to follow up specific items that had been raised the previous day with FM Norov: religious freedom, child labor, Umarov and ICRC prison access.
18. (U) U/S Burns cleared this cable. BUTCHER BUTCHER