Almaty: Uzbekistan strongly welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama's call
for a "new beginning" in ties between Washington and the Muslim
world, signaling a departure from the Central Asian state's usual
Lying on a new
supply route for U.S. troops fighting in neighboring Afghanistan,
mainly Muslim Uzbekistan ceased contacts with the United States
after a row over human rights in 2005 and closed a key U.S. military
base in Central Asia.
Breaking with its
tradition of fierce anti-Western sentiment, the former Soviet
republic praised a speech Obama delivered at Cairo University last
week as pragmatic and sober.
"This sober and
realistic approach to solving key issues will definitely attract
positive feedback from the international community," its official
Jahon news agency said on its Web site.
willingness to find new bridges between the United States and
Muslims around the world in the name of everyone's interests,
justice and progress," the agency, run by the Uzbek Foreign
Ministry, said late on Monday.
Karimov, long criticized in the West for not allowing dissent and
locking up political opponents, has agreed to help anti-Taliban
efforts in Afghanistan by allowing NATO forces to transport
non-lethal cargo through its territory.
This change of
diplomatic attitude is a worry to Russia which sees Central Asia,
and its most populous nation Uzbekistan in particular, as part of
its traditional sphere of interest where the U.S. military presence
is not welcome.
In a move harking
back to the 19th century diplomatic shadow-boxing between the
Russians and the British in the region, the so-called Great Game,
Russia scored an important win this year when another key Central
Asian nation, Kyrgyzstan, ordered U.S. troops to shut a military
base on its land.
announced its decision in February after securing pledges of $2
billion in aid and credit from Russia. Afghan President Hamid Karzai
has sent a personal appeal to Kyrgyzstan asking its leadership to
abandon the plan.
The United States
and other Western nations condemned Uzbekistan in 2005 after its
troops fired on protesters in the town of Andizhan, killing
hundreds, according to witnesses.
rejected all criticism, saying it was a riot organized by Islamist
extremists seeking to topple Karimov and set up a Islamist state in
In a further sign
of warming ties, Karimov met U.S. ambassador Richard Norland last
week to discuss security.
"The gist of
these new approaches (voiced by Obama) lies in the fact that it is
counter-productive to impose values on other nations," Jahon said.
"It is crucial to be a good example for others to follow while
defending democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech and religion as
a set of values important to all."
(Editing by Jon Hemming)