Tuesday, June 14, 2005

THE UNITED STATES and Russia blocked a call for an independent investigation into the Uzbekistan government's shooting of hundreds of protesters last month. The reason? The Bush administration feared being denied access to U.S. military bases in Uzbekistan. The language calling for the investigation was to have been included in a communique coming out of a NATO meeting in Brussels last Thursday.

There is apparently some disagreement within the Bush administration about what policy toward Uzbekistan should be, with State Department officials favoring the more critical approach toward Uzbekistan and the Pentagon being more concerned about angering the Uzbekistan government. Obviously the cynics and hypocrites in the Pentagon won out.

A senior State Department official, who called The Washington Post at the Defense Department's request, denied any "split of views." But other government officials depicted this week's spat over the communique as a continuation of frictions that erupted last summer, when then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell would not certify that Uzbekistan had met its human rights obligations. The decision led to a cutoff of $18 million for U.S. training for Uzbekistan's military forces.

Weeks later, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, and criticized that decision as "very shortsighted"; he also announced that the United States would give $21 million for another purpose -- bioterrorism defense.

More recently, the senior State Department official confirmed, State and Defense officials disagreed about a cable addressing Uzbekistan's continued participation in the military's Partnership for Peace program. After the Andijan massacre, the State Department had proposed a blanket suspension of cooperation. But the Defense Department recommended a case-by-case review of cooperative programs -- the position that prevailed.

"It's like the dilemma we have in the democracy agenda in many places. We have to both press the democracy agenda and still, for example, cooperate when we need to on the war on terror," another senior U.S. official said. "To start pulling away in that . . . [Partnership for Peace] forum from Uzbekistan would not have been smart. . . . We came up with a middle ground."

Already, flights are being diverted from Karshi-Khanabad to other bases in the region, a military official said. The government took the same step after the cutoff of U.S. training funds last year. That is Karimov's method of operation, a senior U.S. official said. "This is how he plays the game. . . . We want to get back the ability to use that base fully."

There are stirrings of dissent on Capitol Hill about placing access to the air base at the center of U.S. policy, however. Six senators warned Rumsfeld and Rice in a letter last week that "in the aftermath of the Andijan massacre, America's relationship with Uzbekistan cannot remain unchanged."

The senators -- Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), John McCain (R-Ariz.), John E. Sununu (R-N.H.), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) -- added that "we believe that the United States must be careful about being too closely associated with a government that has killed hundreds of demonstrators and refused international calls for a transparent investigation." They suggested that the administration explore alternative basing arrangements "in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and elsewhere in the region" to give Washington more flexibility.

The European parliament, in a statement Thursday, went further, calling on Washington to halt negotiations with Uzbekistan over long-term access to the base and urging Uzbek authorities "to bring those responsible for the massacre in Andijan to trial."

Last week, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: "We are calling for a credible, transparent and independent investigation into the Andijan tragedy." Different language has been used by Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. "The United States has repeatedly urged Uzbekistan to undertake a full and transparent inquiry into the Andijan incident," he said, but did not specifically mention an international role.

Need I say that this practice of condemning one country for killing its own people and cozying up to other countries that do the same thing is one of the many reasons why the United States has NO credibility in the world?

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