US Eyes Closer Ties to Central Asia After New York Summit – Senior U.S. officials are optimistic about the potential for enhanced ties with the five republics of Central Asia after a historic summit took place between their leaders and President Joe Biden in New York this week. “I think we’ve heard an openness from all our Central Asian colleagues and really a desire for more engagement with the United States,” said Nicholas Berliner, special assistant to the U.S. president and senior director for Russia and Central Asia at the National Security Council.
Biden “cares about the region,” Berliner said in an interview after the summit. “And I think if there were any doubts about the level of interest on the part of the United States in Central Asia, hopefully today’s summit has put those to rest.” The diplomatic initiative known as C5+1, which was established in 2015, previously convened exclusively at the foreign minister level until this week’s gathering on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
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However, U.S. officials have raised the possibility of holding additional meetings at the heads-of-state level in the future. “I have heard Central Asian leaders say this ought to be a tradition,” said Donald Lu, U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, who told news outlet that the summit could become an annual event.
During the private meeting, President Biden aimed to strike a balance between advocating for democracy and human rights while also offering incentives for stronger economic and security collaboration, as reported by Berliner. “President Biden’s message to his counterparts was that the United States is ready to partner with you to address security issues, economic, climate and transportation issues, and to address human dimension issues,” he said.
Although Washington acknowledges that the region is unlikely to sever its strong connections with its influential neighbors, Russia and China, American officials express their enthusiasm for presenting these countries with an alternative vision. “We felt this was the right time to do this, and it’s an important signal. It shows the importance and the value that the United States places on our relations with Central Asia,” Berliner said. While U.S. officials showed enthusiasm for the summit, human rights advocates exhibited a more cautious stance.
“We hope President Biden was fully aware of the harsh reality in Uzbekistan and the rest of the region as he sat down with these authoritarian leaders,” said Jahongir Muhammad, a former Uzbek politician and veteran journalist, who led a demonstration outside the United Nations with dozens of Central Asian immigrants. Protesters highlighted incidents involving imprisoned bloggers and missing activists.
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Although a news outlet observed some internal debate among them regarding whether Uzbekistan has become more democratic and transparent compared to the previous authoritarian rule of Islam Karimov, who passed away in 2016. Human Rights Watch called on Biden to prioritize human rights during the summit, emphasizing issues such as politically motivated prosecutions, curbing free speech, and the lack of accountability for torture.