September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Press Conference Of Senatorial Delegation Led By Senators Joseph Lieberman And John McCain; January 6, 2002

Press Conference Of Senatorial Delegation Led By Senators Joseph Lieberman And John McCain

Intercontinental Hotel Tashkent, Uzbekistan January 6, 2002

Senator Lieberman: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I'm Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, together with Senator John McCain of Arizona. It's my honor to lead this delegation, which constitutes just about ten percent of the United States Senate {including} members of the Armed Services Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee and the Intelligence Committee. Before I make some remarks, I'd like to indicate to you who is here. To my right and your left are Senator Bill Nelson of the state of Florida, Senator Jean Carnahan of Missouri, Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, next to Senator McCain is Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

Let me make a brief opening statement and ask Senator McCain to do the same, and then we'll be glad to take your questions.

This is the second stop here in Uzbekistan on a week-long visit to this region. We wanted very much to come to Uzbekistan, to come to Tashkent for two main reasons. The first is to say thank you to the government and people of Uzbekistan, as we've just had the opportunity to do in a very productive meeting with President Karimov. We thanked him for the early and tangible and very important support that Uzbekistan gave to the United States, to the allies, to the coalition fighting the war against terrorism, particularly in the effort to defeat the Taliban, liberate the people of Afghanistan, and to break up the Al Qaeda network. The ability to base American troops here in Uzbekistan was critical to the successes that we've all had thus far in the war against terrorism, and we wanted to come and express our gratitude to the government and people of this country for that support -- which we will not forget.

Secondly, we have come to say that the interest of the United States in Central Asia, and in Uzbekistan particularly, is not fleeting. The fact is that for a long period in the last century, during the Cold War, the United States had no role to play in Central Asia. We yielded this area, if you will, totally to Soviet interests, and Soviet control. When the Soviet Union collapsed and these countries here in Central Asia declared their independence, the United States began to have relations with the countries, but they were, as we look back, all too halting and limited. It is tragic but true that the horrific attacks against the United States on September 11th, opened our eyes to the reality that what happens here in Central Asia, though it may be far from our shores, can nonetheless have the most immediate and direct effect on us.

More affirmatively, this is a critical part of the world, strategically, economically and politically, and I would say that our interest in this region post-September 11th is going to be permanent, and I believe constructive both to economic development and to the spread of democracy and freedom and opportunity in this area. And, the reality is, that one of the lessons that I think we've learned in the last four months, is that where there is not freedom and economic opportunity, there is the ground in which extremism can grow, and the extremism -- the Islamic extremism -- that was imposed on Afghanistan by bin Laden and Al Qaeda and the Taliban, is in fact an imposition in an area of the world where Islam has been traditional and moderate and not fanatical or extreme. So, that is the message we've carried in our meetings today with the defense minister, with the leadership of parliament, and most particularly, with President Karimov.

These have been very constructive, productive meetings, and I think all of our delegation, a bipartisan delegation, view this visit as a vital step in the increasingly close, and mutually beneficial relationship between these two governments and two peoples. Senator McCain.

Senator McCain: I'm pleased to be here with my colleagues. There is no better way of understanding the issues that affect the war on terrorism than to be present in the countries that are vital to winning this war. Today we met with the minister of defense and other officials, and we received a comprehensive briefing on the military situation and the vital role that this nation plays in this long struggle that we are engaged in. Our meeting with the president was excellent. It gave us a very good idea of the complexities in the region that exist, that existed before, exist now, and will exist in the future.

There's no doubt in the minds of any of us that our two countries' relationship is vital to winning this long struggle, and as our president has stated, and President Karimov stated, this is a long struggle and it's far from over. We're grateful for the cooperation of the government and the people, and we will carry the message back that we must continue to be involved in the region in general, and in this nation in particular.

Senator Lieberman: Thanks, Senator McCain. I should add as another item, that we thanked the government leaders whom we saw today for opening the Friendship Bridge, from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan, which has been the path along which so much humanitarian assistance has gone, invaluable humanitarian assistance.

We now welcome your questions.

Question: Newspaper Kommersant, Russia, Yuriy Chernogaev. This is obviously a question to the head of the delegation, Mr. Lieberman. Sir, we can see that the American military presence in the region is apparently increasing. For instance, in Kyrgyzstan 5,000 American military troops will be stationed. Will the number of American troops be increased in Uzbekistan? And, allow me to ask you a second question. What will Uzbekistan receive -- financially or otherwise -- for supporting the efforts of the international coalition?

Senator Lieberman: Thank you for the question. The question of location of American troops present or future, in any of the countries of this region, is really a question that's better asked to Secretary Rumsfeld [U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld], or General Franks [General Tommy Franks, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Central Command], or other military leaders. But, I think that the presence here of the military is only one indication of what we see as the continuing relationship between the United States and Central Asia, and the fact that we are here to stay. The second point, as to what can Uzbekistan expect. I think Uzbekistan can expect the United States to treat it as the friend it has been in the past months, to be supportive, as we have tried to be, for instance, in IMF [International Monetary Fund] relations with this country. To work together, to develop a favorable investment climate, a climate in which American capital and business will invest.

Needless to say, the United States would not be the United States if we did not also remain faithful and persistent in advocating increasing democratization and recognition of human rights here, and we had a very frank and encouraging discussion of that subject with President Karimov, as well. I wonder if any of my colleagues would like to add to that at all? Senator Reed.

Senator Reed: If I could just add one point. Our military relationship with Uzbekistan predated the September 11th incident, and set the foundation for the cooperation that we're seeing today. We have been assisting the Government of Uzbekistan, their army, and a significant transformation. And I think that suggests that our relationship is not strictly a function of this war against terrorism. It's a function also of our respect for the efforts that Uzbekistan is making to transform a society, and we respect it mightily.

Senator Lieberman: That's a very good point. Other questions?

Question: I'm Marcia Herbst of the Associated Press. You mentioned that you were frank in your meeting with Karimov, Senator Lieberman. I was wondering what you all discussed with him, specifically with regard to human rights?

Senator Lieberman: Well, I said that -- and others said -- that obviously, we're grateful to Uzbekistan for the support it has given us in the war against terrorism. We want to develop the bilateral relationships between these two countries on all fronts -- strategically, economically. But, the extent of democracy and human rights matters to us. Unless Uzbekistan continues to move in that direction, there will be limits on the support that we can give. And, I thought -- I should leave it to him, I'm sure -- but, I thought that President Karimov was quite direct and responsive in saying that Uzbekistan is at a stage of its national development, little more than a decade after declaring independence from the long period of domination by Soviet communism, where the extent of its democratization and human rights are not where they should be.

But, the question is, what is the direction in which it's going? And I think that he was quite frank in acknowledging that there is a distance to go, and, more important, that he's committed to seeing the country move in that direction. And I welcome that statement and that frankness, and that sense of hopefulness. In other words, I did not hear, if you will, defensiveness. I heard an acknowledgement that this is something that the country and the government has to work on and will work on.

Follow-up Question: And, are there any -- this is to all the senators -- are there any concerns in the closeness of our relationship with Uzbekistan, given that climate?

Senator Lieberman: Colleagues? Senator Thompson?

Senator Thompson: I think there's reason to believe that one of the legacies of our new relationship will be something in addition to just additional aid, perhaps from us, or additional assistance with regard to terrorism from Uzbekistan. But, that it will be more toward open markets, more toward the rule of law. These are the things that we believe that ultimately will lead to the prosperity of Uzbekistan. And I took, from what the president said, that he tended to agree. He pointed out that this is a very new country, but my impression was that he tended to agree that we needed to go in that direction.

Follow-up Question: What's the aim of the entire trip? And, also are there any plans possibly to go to Afghanistan?

Senator Lieberman: We do intend to go to Afghanistan. For security reasons, I can't indicate when or where, but we expect to before we return home both to visit American military personnel in Afghanistan, and to have a chance to meet with the new government there.

Question: Uzbek TV, Sevara Tursunova. In the letter sent by President Bush to Islam Karimov there was an invitation to visit America. Could you please tell us, did you discuss this point during your meetings today? If yes, what does Washington expect from the visit?

Senator Lieberman: I'll begin very briefly. I believe that President Karimov will definitely visit the United States, and I'm sure that it will only strengthen the relationship between the two countries along the lines that I've discussed today. I'm sure that President Bush will want to do directly with President Karimov what we have done today, which is to thank him for the very important support given to the United States in the war in Afghanistan, and also to talk about a range of bilateral relations which are economic and political, as well. Again, I'd ask any of my colleagues if they'd like to add to that? Next question?

Question: Marina Kozleva, UPI. Could you say how long United States troops will stay in Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries? And, what is the perspective of U.S. military presence in Central Asia? Thank you.

Senator Lieberman: Well, again, those are questions better asked of the leaders of our military. For now, of course, we are here for the reasons that you're well aware of: to defeat the Taliban, to apprehend [Osama] bin Laden and [Mullah Mohammed] Omar, and to create security here. And in the long term our presence here will be, I would guess, at least as much or more in terms of the economy, the economic strength of the countries here, and the level of democracy here. To repeat very briefly, if we learned anything from the awful events of September 11th, it is that where there is not freedom and a sense of hopefulness that average people have for the betterment of their own lives economically, there is what we've called in the United States too often, the "swamp." The conditions of a swamp {lead to} the disease of extremism, fanaticism and the growth of terrorism. And, therefore, I think we all understand that we're involved here in a longer term program to raise up the quality of life and the extent of freedom for the people in this very, very important region.

Question: Josh Machleder, from Internews. I wanted to know if since you've arrived here and you've discussed possible political reforms, economic reforms, democratization here, whether or not it arose in any discussion the recent referendum to extend President Karimov's presidency, according to some rumors, two years, to others, for life?

Senator Lieberman: This topic did not come up at any of our meetings.

Question: National News Agency of Uzbekistan. What will be the fate of prisoners of war captured by American and anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan? Will they be tried in their native countries or somewhere in Afghanistan or the United States? Do you have any information regarding this?

Senator Lieberman: The question was whether the people apprehended, arrested in ...

Question: Yes, I mean the foreigners.

Senator Lieberman: Well, I'll start myself because I've spoken to this in the United States. I feel very strongly that there's an appropriate role here for military tribunals to try those who have, who are charged with violating the laws of war. That's certainly true with regard to anyone who was involved in the attacks against the United States on September 11th. This is a practice, of course, that's been used for quite a long time in other combat situations and seems appropriate here and can be done with full regard to the rights of those who are accused. And -- I know you probably follow -- the United States is now developing -- the Bush administration's developing -- full plans to do that, and the latest announcements or suggestions of procedures to do that, I thought, were quite encouraging in regard to the rights of the accused and the openness of the trials.

Question: Stefan Balakin, Business Vestnik Vostoka. I have the following question. Afghanistan represents narcotics trafficking and terrorism. What will be the efforts to create obstacles to stem the source and flow of this poison out to the entire world? And the second question concerns medium and small businesses. What are the plans of the American side to help -- I think it also is mutually beneficial -- Uzbekistan in developing small and medium businesses in return for the assistance Uzbekistan has provided to the United States? Thank you.

Senator Lieberman: Would any of my colleagues want to take the first response to that? If not, I will. We did talk particularly with the minister of defense about the narcotics problem, about its association with the terrorist groups in Afghanistan, for instance, and about the importance of stopping it as best we can. This, as you know, is of direct and immediate concern to western Europe where the greater proportion of the drugs from this region end up, so that I expect that they'll be continuing anti-drug efforts here through the law enforcement and perhaps even military.

But it is important to say, as we've discovered in other sections of the world from which narcotics come, that the other answer to this problem is to give the people who are now involved in this trade other ways to make a decent living. And that relates directly to the kinds of economic assistance and international support that we've talked about earlier. On the question of small and medium size businesses, the economic relationship between the two countries, I think, is at a point where it's going to dramatically increase. One of the best kinds of assistance we've given -- often not enough -- to some of the newly independent nations of the former Soviet Union has been not to the government but to encourage small businesses, entrepreneurship, to take hold, to give people assistance in using their own talents and their desire for improving their own lives to carry them forward. And I certainly hope and believe that there'll be a lot of support in Congress for doing exactly that here in Uzbekistan.

Question: Catherine Davis, BBC News. There have been suggestions that the United States has found its relationship over the last three months with Uzbekistan frustrating at times. Is that the reason why laterally [sic] we've seen more activity in terms of developing or looking at bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan?

Senator Lieberman: Well, I must say personally I've not heard that. That certainly hasn't been part of any of the briefings that we received before we left Washington, nor has it been the sentiment expressed to us by our superb ambassador here.

I think the feeling is that as Senator Reed said earlier we had pre-existing military-to-military relationships with Uzbekistan which were important. I hope in the next period of time there can be increasing movement of Uzbek citizens, students particularly, to the United States. But the fact is that the Karimov government gave the war against terrorism more than verbal support at a very early and critical stage which was the opportunity to base American troops here. As far as I've heard, the relationship has gone well since then.

Question: Could I ask you...

Senator Hagel: Joe, may I ...

Senator Lieberman: Yes, Senator Hagel.

Senator Hagel: The only thing I would add to that is all of the relationships the United States has around the world, and in this particular area of Central Asia, are certainly based on a nation-to-nation relationship. But at the same time, I think it's important to recognize, as the United States is recognizing, that this is also a regional relationship. All the questions that have been asked so far -- the last couple regarding drug interdiction and what we are going to do to deal with that -- relate not just to Afghanistan, but to this entire region -- national security, geopolitical, strategic, economic, drugs. Yes, all are national issues, but they're regional issues as well. So I would just add in answer to your question that any additional development of relationships in Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan -- and which there surely will be, should be, hope there is -- is not an either-or kind of equation. We do not have a zero sum game here. That is not the issue at all. I think it's more of a regional perspective, understanding the completeness of the region.

Senator Lieberman: Thank you, Senator, for making that point.

Question: Could I just ask one other follow up question relating to your visits? I understand you're going to Tajikistan. Will you be going there from here and what will be the focus of your visit there?

Senator Lieberman: Well, quite the same. I mean it's an expression of our interest in exactly what Senator Hagel has said -- a long lasting constructive, mutually respectful relationship with the nations and people of Central Asia which we feel will be in the interest of their stability and security and freedom of this region, and the economic growth of this region.

Thank you all very much. Have a good evening.

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