The final interview with the Ambassador Rosenblum - Will Joe Biden visit Uzbekistan?

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Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Uzbekistan, Daniel Rosenblum, is about to complete his mission in Uzbekistan and hand over his duties. In this regard, QALAMPIR.UZ organized a face-to-face interview with the diplomat and addressed several interesting questions regarding the summary of the ambassador's activities in the country.

You can watch the interview with Daniel Rosenblum, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Uzbekistan, in the video player above or on the YouTube channel of QALAMPIR.UZ.

Shahzod Nusratullayev, reporter: — Dear Ambassador! Thank you for accepting our proposal to hold this interview.  We are so appreciative that you could spare some time for us so that our questions would not be left unanswered.  We have several questions for you based on topical issues which are of interest to all media outlets in Uzbekistan.  

My first question is how would you describe the international image of Uzbekistan both before and after your post as Ambassador Extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the USA to Uzbekistan?

Daniel Rosenblum, US Ambassador to Uzbekistan: — Well, first of all I want to thank you for this interview and say that I am happy to be here with you.On the question about Uzbekistan’s international image, there's no doubt that its image has improved quite a bit in the last six years under President Mirziyoyev. Frankly, I am not sure it has had much to do with my being here because all of the steps that have been taken, were taken by Uzbekistan.  Uzbekistan itself instituted reforms. I think there has been a lot of attention paid and I have noticed this in international indexes and reports.  I just want to point out that this can be a good thing, it gives you some standard and some goal to aim towards, to improve things, whether its in the business environment, for example the world bank which, when doing its business report, has seen Uzbekistan's position increase and improve quite a bit.  There is also a corruption report every year for transparency and they rank countries.  However, there is a bad side, sometimes these reports can focus on what I would call "superficial things" For example, needing to pass a certain law that says x, y and z, but often everyone sees that the passing of laws is simply not enough.  If the law is not implemented and followed, nothing changes, so this focus, on more superficial things can be a problem.  Another problem that I have observed over time, not just here in Uzbekistan, but internationally, is that when you see something problematic, it is often just papered or painted over without actually fixing it.  We all know about the famous Potemkin village, unfortunately there is too much of this that happens in the world.  So, to respond to this question about Uzbekistan's image, as I said at the beginning, there is no doubt that it has improved in the last six years, even in the last three, but it is fragile.  What I mean by that is there is an old saying that was attributed to (I think) one of the founding fathers of the USA, Benjamin Franklin, he said "It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it."  Therefore, I think Uzbekistan needs to be careful not to focus so much on image as opposed to making substantive changes.  

Sh.N.: —Thank you, we can see that the many countries all over the world are facing some security issues.  My next question is: To what extent can the United States of America contribute to maintaining security in Central Asia at a time when the world is dividing into two poles as it was in the Cold War period.

D.R.: — Yeah.  I mean the issue of security in this region is very important to us and very central to our foreign policy here.  Therefore, I think there's a lot we can do working with countries in the region including Uzbekistan to enhance security.   The first thing we can do and what we have done in the past, is to regularly have a dialogue and conferred at a political level, so that our policies are synchronized.  A good example of this is Afghanistan, the country has had a continual ongoing dialogue with Uzbekistan about policy relating to Afghanistan and have managed to find common ground and a common approach.  I think continuing to do this throughout Central Asia, will improve security.  Another thing we can do and have done is to provide training and sometimes equipment to improve the capacity of Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries' security forces and of course, we only do that and respond to requests if we are asked for something for training and we can provide it.  However, what we have found is that what the countries of Central Asia really want, and are interested in, is receiving the benefit of our experience and our expertise in security.  So, what we have done and what we will continue to do is to enhance security.  You mentioned the political or geo political environment in the world, we can continue doing this regardless because the countries of Central Asia have made clear that they want many partners, they don't want to depend just on one partner for their security, they want to diversify and the United States is part of that diversification.   

Sh.N.: —I think it's time to put some focus on international issues or events.  How much does the conflict in Eastern Europe and Taiwan and Uzbekistan’s position on it, affect the relations between the United States of America and Uzbekistan?

D.R.: — So, you know again what we've managed to do successfully in recent years is to establish a good dialogue and regular consultations with Uzbekistan on all of these regional and international issues of security.   We plan to continue this, so that we understand each other's positions and this is the really important thing.  We find when we follow these actions that we have more in common than we have differences, and we can know what divides us.  For example, in terms of some of the conflicts you mentioned, we share the same perspective about those conflicts, our positions are well known with respect to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Another example is some of China's recent actions in the Taiwan straits, which were felt in our response or overreaction to some visits by US congressman to Taiwan and where we believe that China's actions are a threat to the security of the region in Taiwan straits, we are very frank and expressed those views to our partners in Uzbekistan.  They have their own position based on their national interest and their geographical position.  There are economic and other interests, so we try to get an understanding of each other.  I think that the key point I want to make is that both Uzbekistan and the United States care deeply about having a stable and predictable international order, and anything that threatens that is a threat to Uzbekistan and the United States.  Also, we both care deeply about the idea that countries should have their sovereignty, that there should be no threats to sovereignty.  Sovereignty means countries get to decide for themselves how they want to act in the world and I think that's it's a very precious thing for the United States and also a very precious thing for Uzbekistan.  

Sh.N.: —Thank you. Our questions are on different topics.  The next topic is related to Afghanistan.  To what extent do Uzbekistan’s efforts to resume the economy and social life in Afghanistan conform to US policy towards the new government of Afghan land?

D.R.: — So, the policy towards Afghanistan is, as I said earlier, something that we consult about often and in great detail with the government of Uzbekistan.  This predates even the withdrawal of US troops last year, we we very closely coordinated with Uzbekistan and we've considered Uzbekistan as an extremely valuable partner when it comes to security in Afghanistan because it's a neighbor and it has a lot of visibility on what's happening there etc.  So, what we've found in the past year is that their positions are very close to each other, both of us believe that Afghanistan must not become a platform for terrorism, it should not become a haven again for terrorist groups which is what happened in the nineteen nineties and thus lead to 9/11 and lots of other negative events in the world.  We both agree that the government that forms there now, should be an inclusive government that represents the society, not just one narrow group.  Furthermore, we both really emphasize and I know this is very much true of the government of Pakistan because we have talked to them about it, the need for human rights and especially the rights of girls and women in Afghanistan must be respected by the authorities there.  We don't always agree on all those things, sometimes our approach to the government and to the current regime that's in power and Afghanistan's approach may differ slightly and I think that's really explained by the fact that Uzbekistan as a neighbor, has to have a good relationship with whoever is in power there.  Also, Uzbekistan has very understandably an interest in building in Afghanistan, it will be a bridge you could say, to south Asia and that's something that's been made clear to us by the president.   Others here see a long-term goal, one of having much trade and transportation go through Afghanistan.  So, in understanding all that, it sometimes means our approaches will be slightly different, but our basic goals and objectives I think are the same and that remains the most important thing.  

Sh.N.: —Thank you.  You know our government; our country is implementing a new project of reforms in the country. Will a high level of cooperation with the United States ensure the sustainability of reforms in Uzbekistan?

D.R.: — So, I would say what will ensure sustainability of reforms is a continuous, strong political commitment from the highest levels of the government of Uzbekistan and a continuation of the approach that Uzbekistan has taken over the past five or six years, which I would characterize as an approach of the reforms being comprehensive, covering not just economic areas, but social and political as well.   An approach of being self critical, in other words, if things aren't going right, you say that it's not good and we need to correct it.  We must also have the approach of being open to advice and technical assistance from the international community, so what we have done, what the United States has done, is to try and support the reforms and as long as that approach continues, which it shows every sign of doing so, through providing aid, technical assistance and exchange of expertise, we have seen and will continue to see a lot of great success.  So, I think that the key to sustainability is following this course of action.  

Sh.N.: —Thank you.  President Shavkat Mirziyoyev often states that the current reforms are irreversible.  What do you think? Has there really not been a reversion in the reforms?

D.R.: — When the president says that, and he has, I've heard him say it many times, I take that as a declaration of political commitment on his part, not necessarily as a prediction or an observation.  He's not saying it will just happen because it will happen, that he is saying it, you know it's because I'm committed to it, so the fact, or the unfortunate truth is if you look at the experience in the world, history reforms are reversible because they are started by a political leader hopefully with support from the citizens and support from different institutions of society.  This means they can be reversed by political leaders with or without support from citizens and you know there's so many examples, I won't even begin to try and list them, but you know, I think of a country like Myanmar or Burma, which not too many years ago was very much on the path to reform, and people saw it as a great example, and then it's completely reversed one hundred eighty degrees to become arguably, one of the most repressive countries in the world.   So, if it can be reversed, which will hopefully be avoided, we need continued political commitment at high levels and help from international partners and as I said before I will continue to provide help.  Your last point about whether reforms have actually been reversed, I think it depends on which sector you're looking at.  I think there are some sectors where reforms have gone along well, others where they may have stalled and are not moving and then lastly, we may have seen some reversals, so it is a mixed picture.  

Sh.N.: —Thank you.  What measures by the government of Uzbekistan, especially during your tenure, do you consider the main factors in strengthening and guaranteeing relations between the two countries, between Uzbekistan and the USA?

D.R.: — You know, I think the the key, during my time here, to strengthening our relations goes back to something I said earlier, it has been this attitude and approach by the government of Uzbekistan to our relationship, in other words, we can discuss any topic no matter how difficult or sensitive and there's a lot of openness on both sides and a willingness to accept criticism.  An open discussion that has a basic sharing of values and goals.  I think that's the key to any successful relationship.  If we want to see the reform succeed for example, of course the government of Uzbekistan wants to see the reform succeed, so we share a goal and we both want stability.  In Central Asia we want good security and you know to fight terrorism and other threats to that security, we share that goal and that's why the relationship is successful.  That's what I think I would point to as the kind of approaches that have ensured progress during my time here as ambassador.  

Sh.N.: —What are the main conclusions on the future policy by the US side in relation to the the process of regular contact with central Asian countries, in particular with Uzbekistan?

D.R.: — So, conclusions, I would say that one conclusion is to have more cooperation at a regional level, this will be good for everyone, so for example, the sci fi plus one format, which we have been engaged with for the last seven years, I think we started in 2015, Uzbekistan has actually gone from being just a participant, to I would argue, a catalyst of an initiator of that regional cooperation through sci fi plus one.  We've seen that having regular meetings with experts cooperating on regional projects together, like projects related to trade and transport for example, are paying off in the region, not just because it increases jobs and prosperity for people, but also because it allows each of the Central Asian countries to be stronger in their relationship with the rest of the world.  They can kind of stand up for their own interests and rights better when they have trust with each other.   So, we've encouraged that trend.  If you look at the summit of leaders that happened just last month in July, it's another indication that the process is gaining momentum and has a lot of support.  I think that in I would point to the sci fi plus one, I would also point to a shared sense that sovereignty and independence are really important values that have to be protected.  These are things that you know are kind of indicators of success and common interests in Central Asia. 

Sh.N.: —Thank you.  In its annual reports the US state department discusses the situation with the freedom of expression and media journalists and bloggers, human rights, terrorism and extremism in Uzbekistan.  As a person who is aware of the situation inside the country, how do you assess the original situation?

D.R.: — You mention the annual reports, I want to emphasize that sometimes those reports focus so much on what happened in the previous year, that they might lose sight of the relative change over time which is something I’ve been able to see by being and living here, and by being on the ground.  So, those reports are written according to a certain format and they have to be written that way because it's actually required by law.  The United States Congress passed a law that says these reports are mandatory and both factually true and accurate, but sometimes they don't give the full picture of the relative change, so with respect to the relative change, I think there's no question about the situation with respect to the things you mentioned, whether it's human rights, human trafficking, or religious freedom.  Other things have improved, in some cases significantly so, in the past five or six years there has been marked progress, especially in religious freedom and trafficking of persons.  On the last few things I mentioned, and if we had more time we could go into more detail, but we've been very impressed with the commitment of the government to make improvements in that area we've tracked it very closely and while there are still some shortcomings, there has been significant progress in other areas.  In my time here, I've often seen two steps forward and one step back, or maybe sometimes two steps forward and two steps back.  I would just mention a couple of things in that respect, one is in the media, the media area, and the freedom of journalists to report on anything, I do think, and I’ve said this before publicly, that there are some red lines that still exist that people know not to cross, and this is essentially a form of self-censorship that comes into play.  I think there's also still too much harassment of certain journalists and bloggers who are too aggressive when reporting and we know of cases where people have been detained or falsely accused of various crimes, maybe sometimes even sentenced to prison.  There's not a huge number of those cases, but even a few sends a message to other journalists and that's a bad thing, so that's one area where there has been some progress, but it hasn't gone far enough.  I'd also say that with respect to things like the treatment of detainees in prisons and so on, there's been a lot of progress, but we still get cases and reports of bad treatment, torture and abuse.  It's not a systemic problem as it used to be, but there are still issues that have to be dealt with.  So again, in all those areas there's been important institutional changes and new laws adopted, I think there is commitment at the highest levels to improve, but the progress has been slow in some cases, not far enough.  Actually, one more that I didn't mention which I think is important, is a civil society and the ability of non-governmental organizations to be created and to operate, it's still too difficult for organizations to get registered or continue operating and this is something that needs to be addressed through policy.  

Sh.N.: —Thank you.  Well, now a special question, can we hope for an official visit of the US President Joe Biden to Uzbekistan as a symbol of strengthening and coordinating ties between two countries?

D.R.: — Well, as I sit here today, I can't report any plans for a visit from President Biden.   Unfortunately, I have no news of that, but I will say that there has been, in my three years here, a steady stream of very high-level visits in both directions.  Actually, you know we've had, in just my time here, the secretary of Commerce came, the secretary of State, the deputy secretary of State, the Commanding General of our central command or cent-com has come a couple of times, and in the other direction there's also been similarly a lot of high-level officials and as you say, I think this is a symbol, it has practical advantages, but also symbolically it shows the strategic level of our relationship right now.  So, I expect that trend to continue and I hope we will continue to get a lot of senior level visits in both directions.  

Sh.N.: —Thank you for your answers, and I have only one question left.  It is an open question

As a person working in this position for many years, what concluding words or opinion can you give us about Uzbekistan, the Uzbek people and your memories here? 

D.R.: — Well, we could talk for another hour about that, but we don't have an hour because I have a lot of impressions, a lot of memories from my time here, almost all of them extremely positive.  I will say that what I will miss the most about the country is the people because the people of Uzbekistan are incredibly generous and warm and welcoming.  I have been welcomed everywhere in the country, I have traveled all over the country and always been welcomed enthusiastically and with great spirit, strong spirit.  That is what Iwill remember the most, those interactions with people.  I think this country has incredible potential, really great potential, it's a young country with a very young population.  The last I heard was something like sixty percent of the population is thirty or under, which is remarkable if you look at across the world and that means potential, both intellectual and economic.  The potential is very strong, but what's needed, and I think the leadership of the country recognizes this, is to improve institutions that will ensure that young people get a good education, that they have access to good jobs and that the country adopts the most modern advanced technology and knowledge, so that those jobs will be good ones, ones that will have an impact on the world, so there's been progress on that goal, but there is a long way to go.  I just want to know, actually, I can't help but brag a little bit about what the US is doing here, that when I talk about education, this is an area where we have devoted a lot of attention and resources.  We were working closely with the ministry of public education and the ministry of higher education.  We have an exchange program; we were trying to help to give opportunities for studying at US universities.  Also, we are working on English language instruction, we have trained 15,000 English teachers here and in Uzbekistan, in the past three years to improve their level, so that they can be better teachers.  So, we recognize what an important investment that is, that education is the key to any country's success and especially Uzbekistan, so I'll leave you with a good feeling about that, but mostly as I said, feeling good comes from what I have seen and experienced here, especially the people of your country, who are your greatest resource.  

Shaxzod Nusratulloyev Qalampir.uz Tahririyati
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